I came across a great quote in Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception this morning. It is from the author George Orwell. He writes:
“After the age of about thirty they abandon individual ambition–in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all–and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery.”
— George Orwell
“Living for others” is a phrase Catholics use all the time, especially Jesuits (“Men and Women for Others“). It says that our life is not our own. It says that the only way to find true happiness is to live our lives for others. It brings to mind one of John Paul II’s favorite quotes from Vatican II:
“Man. . . cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” (Gaudium et Spes, 24)
But the phrase “living for others” can be misleading. We could live our lives for others in the wrong way. At first glance a devout Catholic might think Orwell is praising the virtue of humility. He is not. He and Godin warn us of the dangers of a false sense of humility motivated by fear rather than love.
Apply the set of statements below to the relationships in your life. Are you really living for others? More importantly, are you living for others out of fear? Or are you living for others out of love?
Living for Others Out of Fear
- Do what they think is best.
- Be who they want you to be.
- Fit in.
- Hold back.
- Seek approval.
- They like me.
- I want to be like them.
Living for Others Out of Love
- Do what is best for them.
- Be who you really want to be (or are afraid to be).
- Stand out.
- Approve or disapprove.
- They respect me.
- They want to be like me.
Let’s apply these statements to parents and their children.
Parents want what is best for their children. Of course they dedicate their whole lives to their kids, but do they live for their kids out of fear or love?
A common mistake parents (and teachers) make is to seek the approval of their kids. They give in to the whining. They don’t confront bad behavior. They overlook bad habits. They want their kids to like them. They want to be their kids’ friends. They are afraid of losing their love. I know all this because I’m as guilty as anyone.
Disciples do the same. We’re afraid to live and share our faith. What will people think of us if we stand up, stand out, and share what we believe? Surely we will be reject.
Yes, we will be rejected. If we’re not rejected, then we’re not responding to Christ’s call to serve him. I know this because, again, I’m as guilty as anyone.
It is a trap that teachers, writers, bloggers, pastors, CEOs, and all kinds of leaders fall into every day. It is the trap that husbands, wives, friends, and family members fall into constantly to hang on to the comfortable ties they’ve been trying to uphold.
Remember the words of Jesus: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
It may seem harsh, but here is the point:
Don’t let fear lead you to please others. You can’t be loved by everyone. Let love lead you to please God. Let the love of God and the self-giving love for others overcome your fear so you can ignore those who might not accept you for who you are.
If you really want to live for others, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be unique. The more you stand out, the more you will inspire others to change their own lives.
In a society that upholds relativism, seeking to please and appease others is held in high regard. The goal is not to upset anyone. No confrontation (which we mistake for peace). Don’t step on anyone’s toes! Don’t take an opinion! Don’t be yourself or people will look at you funny.
The Church cannot exist without persecution and neither can you if you really become who you are supposed to be.
Prepare to be hated. Fight the fear. Live for others.
I appreciate the distinction you make here. Even how a true living for others can be distorted.
While I can appreciate even the reminder about persecution. But while at times there maybe a correlation between “living for others out of love” and persecution, one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. And What you seem to call “relativism” is actually co-dependence. Though, my sense is that by bringing up the tired boogeyman of “relativism” you actually distract from a very helpful point, that is free from ideology. then you take a very sharp and ideological turn.
Larry – If relativism remains for us an abstract ideology and not something we experience in our everyday lives, then it useless as a term that helps us understand our current cultural situation. I believe we experience relativism in our everyday lives. Our experience of co-dependence may be heightened by the relativistic mindset we’re encouraged to have by our culture.