Enlightened Self-Interest or Just Selfishness?

It seems that some people have a real problem with navel-gazing.

It’s not enough that they don’t choose to partake in it. Just the idea of someone else doing it (and…o.k…writing a book about it) sends them into a vitriolic rant.

Privileged! Whiny! Selfish!

Selfish. I saw that word a number of times in posts about the book, Eat Pray Love. If you read the comments following “Why a Woman Seeking Solo Joy Pisses Everyone Off” at Broadside by Caitlin Kelly, for example, you’ll see what I mean.

Now, I don’t know author Elizabeth Gilbert from Eve. And I certainly cannot comment on what type of person she is or is not –nor upon what exactly was going through her mind when she set off on her enviable transcontinental odyssey.

Neither will I revisit the subject of double standard in all of this hoo-hah.

What I found fascinating was that someone’s desperate quest for meaning (and maybe self-medication by pasta) would be regarded, at all, as selfish.

It made me wonder:

  • When does selfless service actually become self-neglect?
  • And when is self-care an act of service to humanity?

In his article entitled, “Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work”, New York Times columnist Paul Vitello reported on how clergy members are becoming increasingly effected by work-related stresses and “now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.”

Notes Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, an assistant professor of health research at Duke University, “These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

Church and Temple leaders have begun to take notice, and now some of the country’s largest religious denominations have implemented wellness campaigns that emphasize the importance of getting away.

In other words, retreating for awhile allows them to replenish themselves –so that they have something to give, for God’s sake.

You don’t have to be a cleric for the principle to apply.

The idea that taking time off for recreation and renewal is selfish would be true only if the premise that each of us is independent of each other were true. It’s not.

In his famous Meditation XVII, John Donne wrote,

“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all, but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness…No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Therefore our individual quest for mental equilibrium and spiritual fulfillment is of benefit to the whole of society –not just because it gives us the energy and inspiration to go out and serve the needs of others, like the airplane oxygen mask that we’re advised to put on our own face first.

But on an even deeper level, your personal quest itself uplifts me, even if I never see you. Nay, even if no one ever sees you.

I appreciate it, so thank you kindly.

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