Selfishness on a snowy day.
I am selfish.
I’ve known this about myself for some time, really. It’s not the most glamorous or pride-inducing realization (though I’ve got plennnnty of that pride thing in other ways, belieeeeve me).
See, I really value an authentic, holistic self-assessment. This can be a tricky thing to do in a healthy way. As humans we seem to have the tendency to either 1. exaggerate our flaws, leading to pity and self-loathing, while underselling our strengths in the name of “humility” OR 2. in our self-absorbed little worlds we overlook or justify our weaknesses believing that overall our good outweighs our bad, especially compared to others. People in the latter camp don’t even have to be obnoxiously self-promoting or pompous; they simply believe that they fall more to the right than the left on the “human evilness comparison scale” and hey, that should count for something, right? Somehow I manage to have a little bit of both sides in me, but mostly I am just a slave to comparison. So my holiness or unholiness typically depends on who I am comparing myself to. Healthy, I know. Cuz other humans should really be my scale. Yeah, that makes sense.
I like to process through this self-assessment with my husband. I talk out my strengths and weaknesses, qualities I’d like to improve or change, the person I want to strive towards becoming, etc. He mostly listens and sometimes when he feels I am being too hard on myself, he jumps in to counter. I appreciate his effort and the sentiment behind it, but when I’m in a good rational frame of mind to authentically self-assess, it’s not coming from a place of self-loathing and nasty outward comparison, but a place of clarity and honesty to see, as CS says that I am merely a “creature whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it is when we really see it, a horror to ourselves.”
Before Jerry and I got married, he was asking a buddy of his for marriage thoughts/advice and his friend, who is a stand-up guy in every sense of the word (Lindsey–this is Scott…), basically said, “Marriage shows you just how selfish you really are.” This really stuck with Jerry. It’s something that he found to be so profoundly true that he now passes it on to others as they are about to embark on the marriage journey. But what you have to understand is that to the outside world, Jerry is the epitome of selflessness. He is literally the least selfish person that I know and his actions reflect that. This is one of those great paradoxes of life: the more acutely aware you are of the ”horror of your character,” the holier you actually are. Just as so many brilliant intellectual giants (such as CS) are the first to admit their ignorance and lack of knowledge (which seems absurd to us laymen who regard them with such respect and esteem) so too are the most pious saints the first to admit the depth of their sinfulness.
So it seems that this greater depth of awareness evokes actions which contradict the central tenet of the awareness: the self-proclaimed selfish man acts exceedingly selfless; the self-proclaimed ignorant man provides profound insights. I think this is because upon recognizing the true “horror” of his selfishness and the implications on his standing with God, the selfish man has no recourse other than immediate, wholesale change. This is the signature difference between Jerry and me: my awareness has yet to summon consistent change. To be clear, this is really not a self-loathing thing and it’s not a claim that he’s perfect, by any means. It is simply an area of my honest self-appraisal that needs work and one in which I am so thankful to have Jerry as an inspiring example. See, oftentimes it seems we rebuke the notion of shame or guilt, preaching instead that we are meant to live joyfully, infused with grace and freedom. While all those things are true, we must also remember as CS says that “shame must be valued not as an emotion but because of the insight to which it leads.” And that insight (hopefully) leads to action…and more freedom and joy and all those other great things too. So don’t hate on shame. And don’t be afraid to peel back the layers for a little introspection and honest self-appraisal.