“Whoever writes on strategy and tactics ought not in his theories to neglect the point of view of his own people.”
Colmar von der Goltz quoted in Gabriel Darrieus, War on the Sea (trans. 1908).
If a man invites you to walk a mile in his shoes, there is a very good chance that he intends to run off with your shoes while you are taking that walk. If he invites you to see things from his point of view, there is very little chance that he intends to return the favor. And if he invites you to “take one for the team,” you may well suppose that this is because he is gouging all he can from the team, and therefore looks forward to your sacrifice as a means to up his take.
“Selfless service” is, in other words, the pitch of con-men and bunco-artists. As you may have observed, most men who quote John 15:13 number themselves as one of the friends for whom some other man should lay down his life in a act of love. It’s a racket, I tell you, a swindle.
I do not mean to suggest that you should, therefore, take up a life of predatory egotism. There are good reasons to walk a mile in another man’s shoes, provided you keep an eye on the shoes that you temporarily shed. There are times when you should see things from another man’s point of view, so long as you don’t forget to return to your own point of view at the end of the day. Taking one for the team is noble when the team is a team and not a pack of thieves. As for John 15:13, I am inclined to view with grave suspicion anyone who draws my attention to the verse, unless he is himself the ghost of a bleeding martyr.
What, you may ask, about Matthew 10:39? In this and several parallel verses, Jesus says:
“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
Doesn’t this mean that we should “live for others”? Well, no, it actually doesn’t. At the time, it meant that the disciples must be prepared to stop living as Jews; and in our own day it means that Christians must be prepared to stop living as heathens. Jesus is talking about metanoia, which transforms the ego and does not extinguish it.
Christianity holds that the self is sick and in need of a cure. It does not, like Buddhism, hold that the self is the sickness. The sickness expresses itself in selfishness, but wellness does not express itself in selflessness. As you can see in Matthew 10:39, metanoia does not end in selflessness, but in finding a new self on the other side.
Annihilation is not a Christian virtue because Christians inhabit a fallen world of sin, and not an illusory world of maya. Aquinas tells us that this sin can arise from an “inordinate love of self,” but that we are commanded to “natural self-love” by the law of charity. He reminds us that the commandment to love our neighbor presupposes this natural self-love, for I cannot love a man “as myself” if I do not love myself in the first place.
It is not selfish to take your own side in an argument; it is not wicked to see things from your own point of view; and there are times when charity and justice require that a dollar stay comfortably folded in the confines of your wallet. Only con-men and bunco-artists say otherwise.