Sunday, May 31, 2009

Your own personal jihad

The relationship between morality and power is such that doing the right thing often sucks. This is the message of the gospels: do the right thing and you will make life that much harder for yourself in the short-term, and probably in the medium-term, as well; in the long-term you will be dead. There are no other guarantees, and even "doing the right thing" can amount to an act of faith. That's the bargain.

The rewards are what we make them. To be sure, they are not always obvious. If you give your only sandwich to someone because they ask for it, only to later discover two-thirds of it in the trash, it's fair to say the emptiness in your gut will not be from hunger alone, but from the wastefulness of an exchange that cost you considerably.

But it's important to remember what is at stake: on one hand, a sandwich; on the other, the freedom to help someone who asks for it directly. If the conclusion we take from this experience is, "I will not give up a sandwich without a guaranteed outcome that satisfies me," then we lose the freedom to act under almost every circumstance. So the reward in this regard is to invest in the kind of person we want to become. This may be less tangible than a sandwich, but as Tolstoy says, "Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them."


Richard said...


Anonymous said...

Rewards for being an altruist? Something in return?
Forget about it.
You must be altruistic about your altruism.