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Even when you do things for others, you’re doing them for you

It’s easy to play the martyr.

All of us are capable of fooling ourselves into believing that our choices are fundamentally about something other than our own fulfillment.

Every choice we make, however, is directly connected to our desire for personal happiness or inner peace.

Whatever it is we decide to do, it is because we are attempting to move away from some form of pain (potential or actual) and/or move towards some form of pleasure (physical or psychological).

Even heroic acts of self-sacrifice are intimately wedded to self-interests.

The person who risks his own life in an effort to save another is doing so because deep down inside he feels that it is the morally right thing to do. Many of the most self-sacrificing people openly admit that they would feel empty, sad, unfulfilled, or guilty if they chose personal gain over the opportunity to help another. And while this may be a permissible outlook to have, it still involves self-interest. It’s just harder to see because the pursuit of self-interest in cases like these don’t involve the superficial elements (ie. money, fame, status, etc) that we typically use to define the concept of “personal gain.”

The hero is someone who defines true fulfillment as that which arises from living an honorable life devoted to the pursuit of good deeds rather than the acquisition of personal comfort or material gain. While the hero may frequently forgo the luxury of superficial rewards, he is still driven by the sense of psychological fulfillment that comes from living in accordance with certain ethical codes.

In other words, even when we sacrifice ourselves, we are choosing what we personally believe is the most rewarding option available to us.

The religious man may value being at peace with God. The practical man may value the attainment of material possessions. The vain man may value worldwide acclaim. The holistic man may value being at peace with his conscience. The pacifist may value being at peace with others. We all define “value” in different ways, but we are all alike in that our choices reveal what those values are.

There are no martyrs. There are only choosers.

Interestingly enough, the term “martyr” is traditionally used by religion to describe people of faith who never saw themselves as martyrs.

The martyrs of faith saw themselves as spiritual visionaries who were able to recognize where life’s “real” treasures were located.

Consider the words of the Apostle Paul who is one of the most celebrated martyrs of the Christian faith:

“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

The historical martyrs never complained about how much they gave their lives for God or others. They saw their actions as the only logical investment one could make once they were possessed by a spiritual understanding of the universe.

Even martyrs were, in their own eyes, simply choosers.

Here’s today’s two cents:

Don’t be a martyr.

If you enjoy sacrificing yourself for the world, then follow your bliss. But If your needs aren’t being met because of the things you do to accommodate other people, stop playing the blame game and start being honest with yourself.

Make no excuses for the decisions you make. Own your choices.

Even when you do things for someone else, you’re doing them for you. And since it’s impossible for you to not do something for yourself, you might as well start doing those things from a place of ownership, responsibility, and personal power.

This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. There are some really good points in this one, but I have a few things that I would like to say,

    A person can be a martyr in one standard that I know fairly well. Say you’re a soldier in Afghanistan, you see a grenade, there are two things you can do: Tell everyone and run knowing that most of them wouldn’t stand a chance, or risking your life by throwing yourself on the grenade and telling everyone to take cover.

    With every militant person that I’ve ever talked to, they are trained to do the second option before the first. The reason? Because their group has a better chance of surviving. They are willing to give their lives for the sake of the whole group, and there isn’t much personal gain from this. The most you get is a medal for the Act of Valor (and a long list of others), whether you live or die. You don’t get fame, you get money and your family gets money, yes, but that’s because you’re either completely disabled or dead. For this type of scenario, you have no personal gain. You’re merely saving the lives of those around you.

    I don’t know, I guess most people wouldn’t be put into these situations, but it does happen and it doesn’t always have to deal with personal gain when someone is doing things for others. It’s a gain that isn’t very good, but you either live with the consciousness of saving the lives of others, or you die with the consciousness of saving the lives of others. It’s a one way road that leads two paths, as one of my friends once said.

    Well that’s my two cents, keep up the good work T.K.!


  2. There is a distinction between self-absorption and
    rational self-interest. Neither sacrificing yourself
    to others nor expecting others to sacrifice themselves
    to you.

    If I don’t buy a new dress so that I can feed my son,
    it’s not a sacrifice, as I value my son more than the dress.

    A soldier values his honor code.. And the choice he made
    joining the military. For these men it’s about each watching
    out for the other guy in the hopes that most of them can
    get out alive. It is their covenant. As Band of Brothers , The
    Big Red One, Saving Private Ryan et al poignantly illustrate.

    I don’t see this as sacrifice, even though I don’t agree with
    the current foreign policies. How would we distinguish a
    soldier fighting for Communist Russia, Nazi Germany etc.
    versus American, Canadian, British soldiers? What were
    they all fighting for in WWII? Oppression? Or freedom.?

    Many historical martyrs were in competition with one another
    to be more “saintly.” Suggests something else other than

    Better to determine what we’re willing to live rather than die for.

    I am wary of people trying to be “martyrs.” They often
    expect others to be likewise. Whether the others agree
    or not.

    The fundamental difference will be whether we are more
    motivated by fear or desire. And how this drives the choices
    we make.

    Agreed” “There are no martyrs. There are only choosers.”

    Very thought-provoking post.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with the reasoning of the last comment. This is a good post TK. I wonder though how many of us appreciate what motivates our own personal choices in life? The implications of making choices and taking responsibility for creating our own realities is hard to avoid…

      1. Thank you Daniela for reblogging this. T.K you really make some great points. I do agree with the idea that some heroes find fulfillment in sacrificing themselves for “the greater good” so to speak. I find it to be more like a mini-purpose within a greater one that will create contentment in the individual. An interest of some sort, no matter how small, is what all humans hope to gain in return for the deed done. I suppose those who refuse any compensation for their acts are deceiving themselves huh? What would you say about them?

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