Is selfishness a four letter word?

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July 2, 2012 by Malcolm Graham

Is selfishness a requirement to being a more capable and complete person? Do we need to be selfish in order to give? These questions were the basis for our discussion in Holy Smokes this week. The below excerpt was read to the group as the basis for stimulating thought on this topic.

Put Your Relationships Second

A man who claims his #1 commitment in life is his relationship partner (or his family) is either too dishonest or too weak to be trusted. His loyalties are misplaced. A man who values individuals above his own integrity is a wretch, not a free thinker.

A man knows he must commit to something greater than satisfying the needs of a few people. He’s not willing to be domesticated, but he is willing to accept the responsibility that comes with greater challenges. He knows that when he shirks that duty, he becomes something less than a man. When others observe that the man is unyieldingly committed to his values and ideals, he gains their trust and respect, even when he cannot gain their direct support. The surest way for a man to lose the respect of others (as well as his self-respect) is to violate his own values.

Life will test the man to see if he’s willing to put loyalty to others ahead of loyalty to his principles. The man will be offered many temptations to expose his true loyalties. A man’s greatest reward is to live with integrity, and his greatest punishment is what he inflicts upon himself for placing anything above his integrity. Whenever the man sacrifices his integrity, he loses his freedom… and himself as well. He becomes an object of pity.

After reading the above excerpt and to further serve as a visual example of the problem with giving everything without consideration for our own well being members of the group were given cups that were partially filled with beer, they were instructed to take care of the contents of the cup. They were told that the beer was valuable, tasted good and was of exceptional quality. When I approached those who had beer in their cup with my empty cup the group members did what most caring and generous people do, they filled my cup. Many filled my cup to the point of emptying their own. All were significantly diminished in volume. Yes I drank it all. At the end of the example very few of us were capable of giving in the same capacity that we gave the first time around. Some were completely unable to give. This visual demonstration of a “full cup” served as the basis for our discussion relating to the requirement to maintain a full cup prior to being able to continuously give to the people in our life that depend on us as providers.

Many of us shared examples of having the desire to give but not the capability. Others shared stories of having our cup filled with the wrong things also inhibiting our ability to give to others in a meaningful way. There were also personal stories of inspiration, members shared stories of how they filled their cups with the right things and were in turn able to change the lives of the people around them. During our discussions we often challenge each other to ensure we’re on the right path. We question each others motives, in an effort to provide each other guidance and comfort based on our life’s experience. As a result of this environment of challenging with care some other topics emerged that actually helped us as a group further define who we are and what our larger calling is.

The actual value of the topic and the direction of discussion were challenged. Are we discussing things that are to secular in nature? Are we moving further away from our ultimate group goal by walking down this path? We discussed the nature of the topic in general. While there are still a great differences among us there are also amazing commonalities. We all seemed to agree that Holy Smokes is about “building better men” we are all on different parts of our journey towards that goal. Some of us are working on spiritual growth, others improved health or being a better father, husband, son or brother. Since we are all on such different parts of the journey the nature of our discussions is sometimes more spiritual in nature and sometimes more secular in nature. While we each are focusing on different components of our growth we all agreed that we’re singular in purpose. We are all committed to our common accountability, growth and support. Everyone is welcome, we want to create an atmosphere that welcomes people from different walks of life with different views and opinions.

Effort isn’t enough. Staying away from the wrong types of people, events and vices is a critical part of selfishly filling our cup with the right kinds of things. We are capable of different things based on how full our cup is and learning how to identify how full our cups are is an important part of determining where we need to be and who we need to surround ourselves with. While most of us agreed that we have a responsibility to fill “our cup” with the right things, and to be aware of how full we are of those things at any given time there were differing opinions about what our cup should be full of. Many of us were primarily concerned with awareness of not filling ourselves with the wrong things. Even though as a group we have common goals and many common beliefs depending on where each of us are on our walk we have different needs and capabilities.

Below are some of the comments that members made during the wrap up segment of our meeting.

“There are all kinds of things that we can refuel with that don’t help our marriage, relationships or things that matter.”

“I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I’m not. Giving away the overflow will be a big focus for me. I’m going to start focusing on that.”

“Knowing how to best articulate my indicators. The ability to look at my glass and know when I’m empty or know when I’m living a full life.”

“It’s all about ownership. Is it me or am I his? Do I own me or am I a child of God?

One of our members shared with us a song that provided them inspiration through the previous week, we liked it and thought we’d share it with you as well.

Listen to the Sidewalk Prophets here.

“The glass itself is ever changing in size and shape. There is a core thing, mine is my faith. Based on where you are in your life or in your walk of faith you need to realize that you may have been full at one point but could now empty.”

“I have to be a seeker. I have to be intentional. Sometimes when I get busy and caught up in other things I stop being a seeker.”

In summary, even though it goes against traditional thought the paradox of being selfish as a prerequisite to giving and growing is real. As men we need to be introspective and honest enough to capably evaluate how full our cup is. When it’s empty we need to selfishly work at refilling our cup with the right kind of “fuel”. Understanding the nature of our cup, how and where we fill it are all integral parts of being a man. When our cup is full it is equally important to direct our overflow towards the people in our life that need it most, to willingly and gratefully give to others what was given to us.

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