Are There Any Selfless Good Deeds?
This seemingly innocuous question, I heard first in the yesteryear’s famous sitcom “Friends” has piqued my interest. Joey asks Phoebe to name one selfless good deed, and she couldn’t come with one. Any plausible answer to this question involves your own happiness as a part, thus making it selfish in nature. Does anyone who says that he loves God really mean it? Are they really loving The God, who doesn’t manifest himself in any tangible form? Or are they loving some aspect of themselves itself, when they say that they love God?
At the deepest level, why would someone engage himself in an activity? Because there is something lacking, if he acts, by the virtue of the action, that lack is being fulfilled. Every act done by a human has is to compensate something lacking in him or to satisfy an urge. Once the urge is satisfied, it happens to be a selfish act. A father love his children not because he is their cause, but because a part of him gets satisfied when he loves them. Every act of a human is a trade. That trade could be at the psychological realm. Humans never engage in an activity that does not benefit him. This is rooted in his innate animalistic nature. It could be the case that he can delay his satisfaction to an extend, but still his own satisfaction is his ultimate end.
Religious stories often overlook this self-satisfying nature of man. When Jesus exhorts to love your own neighbor as you love yourself, that alone disqualifies him as a moral figure. A man can never love anyone/anything with out expecting something, however small it is, back from them. Unconditional love is meaningless. Being moral doesn’t imply being selfless. In fact for being moral, you have to be selfish. The self-identity of a man is heavily rooted in his selfishness. This may seem counter-intuitive, but true. If someone is claiming as selfless, he has not encountered situations which questions his definition of selflessness.
A true selfless person, if present, is an irony. He could be the most immoral person. Love, affection, empathy and compassion are the expressions of one’s ego. That formless ego, that feeling of I, that picture of yourself that arise in your mind when you see your own picture, is the most valuable thing one can ever possess. That formless ego has to acquire characteristics that defines one’s moral intuitions. Once UG Krishnamoorthy was asked a question about himself 40 years back, he answered that he couldn’t relate to what he was 40 years ago. It was not him that was 40 years ago. What I felt from his vague allusions was that he couldn’t causally connect himself right then to himself 40 years back. I asked myself Was it some sort of genuine psychiatric issue that couldn’t connect two periods of one’s own life, or was it a genius answer?
Our ego is our most potent tool. And our ego, by the definition of it does not support selfless altruism. Our ego has to have tentacles which rewards itself from actions that could eventually benefit others.