Which do you value more in your own mind, the welfare of all or the welfare of yourself? Is it better to get service for yourself, or to give service for others?
You may hesitate in telling yourself what amounts to your own answers, but if the unexamined life is perhaps not worth living……..at least according to Socrates…….then we do owe ourselves an answer to such questions.
My own belief is that the measure of a healthy society is one in which the norms of social behavior favor altruism, or the preference of giving to others above that of receiving for self. And I’d like to think that American society does, as a whole, favor more altruism than it does narcissism (it’s all about me).
By history, our nation was formed by people who came here to get more for themselves. Too often throughout our history we have found private health, private wealth, and indeed private property to be our core value as a society. Individuals were privileged above groups or communities. My profits often came before other people. Personal rights triumphed over human rights; personal freedoms above the national interest or common good, the me ahead of the we.
Yet, America has largely overcome our own history. We’ve learned to give in many cases more than we take. Perhaps through marital and parental responsibilities, we’ve gained a greater sense of altruism and community concern than we first came here with. Or at least this seems true of the European Americans who came ashore most often in search of personal freedom.
Granted, our dominant religious culture has long favored a westernized Christianity that taught personal salvation, despite the biblical Christ’s own emphasis on the common good or communal salvation through the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Always, I might add, at the expense of personal or private gratification. Over the centuries, American Christianity has itself grown in the direction of less taking for me and more giving for thee. Great Spiritual Awakenings have moved us further from the pursuit of private benefit and more toward the public interest. And each such Awakening in our history came about in response to a larger social crisis, whether in areas of public health, wealth, and education. Hospitals, banks, and universities sprang from our collective crises as a result of our Great Awakenings.
In my spiritual autobiography, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” (https://www.amazon.com/Loves-Resurrection-Power-Fears-Heaviest/dp/1949798259, I speculate that our nation may well be on the verge of another Great Awakening. One that improves our institutions in areas of public health and safety and life-long learning. While written prior to the current crises of health and wealth and even, it now turns out, educational controversies about this coming school year, I believe the crises we now face can make America better going forward. Even more altruistic; less narcissistic. We can have better healthcare for our public health, better policing for our public safety, and better schools for our public education.
In examining our lives we come to the questions of “Which do you value more in your own mind, the welfare of all or the welfare of yourself? Is it better to get service for yourself, or to give service for others?” and find our answers to be “the welfare of others” through our gift of “service for others.”
If we as Americans get our answers wrong in response to these questions, mostly heretofore unspoken ones, then we will have wasted today’s crises and will have slept through an opportunity to have our Greatest Awakening ever. But if we get them right, then we will find ourselves listening, talking, learning, and teaching the values of public health, public safety, and public education. And experiencing the true Gospel of the biblical Jesus; salvation for all, not just self, through the Kingdom of God.