Chapter 46

  1. Selfishness

There is nothing in the world so malignant and destructive in its nature and tendency as selfishness. It has done all the mischief of the past, and is destined to do all the mischief of the unseen future. It has destroyed the temporal and eternal interests of millions in times past, and it is morally certain that it will destroy the interests of millions yet to come. It is the source of all the sins of omission and commission which are found in the world. We shall not see a wrong take place but that the actor is moved by his own private, personal, and selfish nature.

Selfishness is a vice utterly at variance with the happiness of him who harbors it, for the selfish man suffers more from his selfishness than he from whom that selfishness withholds some important benefit. He that sympathizes in all the happiness of others perhaps himself enjoys the safest happiness, and he who is warned by all the folly of others has perhaps attained the soundest wisdom. But such is the blindness and suicidal selfishness of mankind that things so desirable are seldom pursued, things so accessible seldom attained. The selfish person lives as if the world were made altogether for him, and not he for the world; to take in every thing, and part with nothing.

Selfishness contracts and narrows our benevolence, and causes us, like serpents, to infold ourselves within ourselves, and to turn out our stings to all the world besides. As frost to the bud and blight to the blossom, even such is self-interest to friendship, for confidence can not dwell where selfishness is porter at the gate. The essence of true nobility is neglect of self. Let the thought of self pass in, and the beauty of a great action is gone, like the bloom from a soiled flower. Selfishness is the bane of all life. It can not enter into any life—individual, family, or social—without cursing it. It maintains its ground by tenacity and contention, and engenders strife and discord where all before was peace and harmony.

Few sins in the world are punished more constantly or more certainly than that of selfishness. It dwarfs all the better nature of man. It takes from him that feeling of kindly sympathy for others’ good, which is one of the most pleasing traits of manhood, and in its stead sets up self as the one whose good is to be chiefly sought. It makes self the vortex instead of the fountain, so that, instead of throwing out, he learns only to draw in. These withering effects are to be seen not only in the high roads and public places of life, but in the nooks and by-lanes as well. Not alone among conquerors and kings, but among the humble and obscure; in the dissembling artifices of trade; in the unsanctified lust of wealth; in the devoted pursuit of station and power; confederated with the worst feelings and most depraved designs.

In proportion as we contract and curtail our feelings, so do we confine and limit our minds. If all our thoughts, plans, and purposes tend only to the advancement of self, we may be sure they will become as insignificant as their object, and instead of embracing in their scope the welfare of many, rendering us an object of endearment to others, they will become dwarfed and conceited, and fall far short of the liberality and public spirit by which we attach others to our cause. Unselfish and noble acts are the most radiant epochs in the history of souls, points from which we date a larger growth of thought and feeling. When wrought in earliest youth, they lie in the memory of age, like the coral islands, green and sunny, waving with the fruits of a southern clime amidst the melancholy waste of water.

The vice of selfishness displays itself in many ways. In an extreme form it is termed avarice, and shows itself in an insatiable desire to gather wealth. As heat changes the hitherto brittle metal into the elastic, yielding, yet deadly Damascus blade, so, when the demon of avarice finds lodgment in the heart of man, it changes all his better, nature. It may find him delighting to do good and relieving the wants of others; it leaves him one whose whole energy and power are turned to the advancement of self alone. This is the grand center to which all his efforts tend. There is no length to which an avaricious man will not go in his mad career. In order that wealth may be his he will run almost any risks, stand any privation, and will sacrifice not only his own comfort and happiness, but that also of his friends and associates, or even of his own family circle. His mind is never expanded beyond the circumference of the almighty dollar. He thinks not of his immortal soul, his accountability to God, or of his final destiny. Selfishness in its worst form has complete possession of his heart. It is the ruling principle of his life. One strange feature about this form of selfishness is that it ultimately defeats its own ends. Its possessor is an Ishmael in the community. He passes to the grave without tasting the sweets of friendship or the comforts of life. Striving for wealth in order that he may have wherewith to procure happiness, he ends with the sacrifice of all the means of enjoyment in order that he may augment his wealth more rapidly.

The closing hours of a life of selfishness must be clouded with many painful thoughts. Chances for doing good passed unimproved. In order that some slight personal advantage might be gained kindly feelings were suppressed. The heart, which was intended to beat with compassion for others, has become contracted to a narrow circle, and life, that inestimable gift of Providence, instead of drawing to its close a rounded and complete whole, has been stinted and dwarfed, and passes on to the other world but illy prepared for the great changes wrought by the hand of death.

, In, pager

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