Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Why Do I Do What I Do? Why Should I?
I am sorely tempted to mock our president, Mr Obama. He speaks of the military actions HE will take, thinking he has everyone’s approval, because they know that HE KNOWS what is right --- and so he can act alone if he wants. And then the polls come out showing what the people of the United States --- voters --- think, and from around the world leaders say: “You are wrong.” And the enemy says: “We will bring the war to your homeland.”
And suddenly he knows he stands alone, and the people do not approve of him or his action. Great men have stood alone in the past, and have made the hard decisions to do what is right. But now this president pauses: “No, on second thought (and in my wisdom), I will ask Congress to approve my decision.”
What changed his mind? You may point here or there, but it appears certain it was others’ opinions, and it appears certain that our president values others’ opinions highly --- not their opinions of his actions, for he is supremely confident that he and perhaps ONLY he KNOWS what is right. No, he values opinions of him even more than his right actions. If his “right action” were to save hundreds of millions of lives, even so he would defer his action if he did not have the people’s approval --- their love.
There is a name for those who have a desperate desire to be loved, and who base their actions on being loved. They are called narcissists. Narcissism is defined as “love of one’s own body,” and derived from a story in Greek mythology about a youth who fell in love with his own reflection (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary). Interestingly, the more hip Wikipedia definition includes a consideration of a “healthy narcissism,” and “a feature related to healthy narcissism is a feeling of greatness.” Uh-huh, this is healthy. Narcissism was once thought a psychological warp in a person, but that seems not to be the case anymore. Even before his election, some people pointed out Obama’s tendency toward narcissism, but few thought it important. They did not consider it to be warped.
Wanting to be loved is what every baby wants, most supremely. They mature and grow out of it. And now we have a president who wishes to start a war, because “I WANT IT.” And wonders: “What’s wrong with YOU, that you don’t want to give me what I want?”
And he cries.
Are we (or Congress) to be his mommy?
What shall we do?
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I spent some time at the coffee shop yesterday morning, talking to a 77-year old man who has his own business, is financially secure and, as the former police chief, has the public support of his community. He has no need of anyone to approve his actions, and indeed has taken actions, such as supporting charter schools, contrary to some vocal groups in the community. He is not narcissistic, needing the approval of others to justify his actions. But what then does he base his actions on? Indeed, what do any of us base our actions on? Who do we seek the approval or love of?
This man I was speaking with mentioned he was leaving on a two or three week trip, driving down to tour Southern cities. He was going wandering, sight-seeing. We both talked of all the cities we’ve seen around the world --- there were many --- and of places unvisited. I mentioned I might like to tour our national parks; I’ve only seen a couple. He said: “You must do that.”
And I paused.
I certainly value this man’s opinion, as an expert of sorts, and I certainly desire and have the means to travel and see all that my mind’s eye might delight in, but --- but he used the word “must.”
The narcissist “must” seek other’s approval, but what “must” I do? The conversation drifted to financial means, and I said I have monies I never expect to need, and only need to decide how to give away upon my passing. He said: “You can never have too much money.”
There it was again, a word which gave me pause. He said: “never.” I responded that I could very easily see myself in the soup kitchen line some day, the very one I’ve sometimes served in, and I would have no regrets or concerns, “But,” I said, “I think most people don’t understand that.” He didn’t either.
I expect he’s on the road early this morning, and I am left behind here thinking: “What should I do?” Like him, I am free to do about anything I want --- as the president is (or at least he thinks he is). But what should I do? Should I seek pleasures, things to please my senses, like beautiful sights, great concerts, fun exercise like golf, or perhaps great food served in great restaurants?
Or should I do things to please my heart?
I am reading a book by Dietrich von Hildebrand titled “The Nature of Love.” It is a very slow read for me, as the author explains what love is, versus what are love’s attributes, which people sometimes confuse with love itself --- like the desire to be loved in return. Von Hildebrand goes into great depth to explain that primarily love is value-related; it has to do with the supreme innate value of the person loved; he is worth loving. It’s his value, not mine, that defines my love for him. It’s his deserving of being loved which stokes my desire to love him, not my need of love in return. Our president defines his actions based on love, a love of himself. Von Hildebrand takes great pains to explain how to some degree, some small degree, this is an attribute of love, and a good thing. But it is not love.
As I read books such as these I am somewhat sad, as I think on the words and their meaning for me --- and my actions. I see explained to me what drives my actions, and how might I cooperate with this drive, what my heart longs for, this desire to love. And I am sad that I have no one to discuss these thoughts with, no one interested in these things. It used to be that men were concerned with important questions, such as: Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Why did God make me? Now so many seem most concerned with: How do I get what I want?
These are important matters, these considerations of why we act the way we do. We have a president who, in doing what he wants to do, might start a war that would kill millions. And we have ourselves and actions we might do. And what will be their impact?
Reality is that our actions can only impact ourselves or others. If we focus only on making ourselves happy, we CAN achieve some of the things we define as making us happy. But what of the important questions, and in particular the question: Why did God make me? Is not fulfilling the reason I was made the ultimate in making me happy? As von Hildebrand explains, those things I might do primarily for myself may be attributes of love, but they are not love. And, as he explains, we were MADE to love.
The old Baltimore Catechism taught young Catholic children the answer to the question: Why did God make me? “He made me to know, love, and serve Him.” As far as the actions we are to take and what should be driving our actions, Jesus explained that with the words: “Love God, and your neighbor as yourself.” In this way you will obtain eternal life, eternal happiness.
Every Catholic child once knew that, what he should do, and how he should prioritize his actions. How did we let ourselves drift away and forget? How did we come to prize a president who deems himself and his actions most important --- and whose actions are primarily aimed not at fulfilling his oath of office, but of making himself happy?
My future life actions will include some things which make me happy, but those will not be the primary purposes of my life. Like the attributes of love, those will be some side benefits of living my life focused not on myself, but others, focused not on my pains, but theirs.
There is some wisdom in that old joke where someone says he wishes his right foot didn’t hurt so much, and so his friend stomps on his left. “Why did you do that?” screams the first person, “My left foot may be broken!” “Well,” responds the second, “you said you didn’t want your right foot to hurt ‘so much.’”
Our troubles, our pains, are relative things. Our pains are not nearly so bad, when we focus on the pains of others first. Our loneliness is not nearly so lonely, when we visit others who are lonely. And our need to be loved is not nearly so unfulfilled as when we choose to love others.
It is what we were made for.