“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really — I was alive.” Walt, Breaking Bad
“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.” -Alana Bush
“The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care. But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition no action is feasible.” -Ludwig Von Mises, Human Action
There is no such thing as an emotionally detached heroic act of selfless love. Everything one does is influenced by, and inseparable from, his perception of how the outcome of that choice affects the way he feels about his own integrity and quality of life.
All are not driven by the need for money and material gain. All are not driven by the need for prestige and professional advancement. All are not driven by the need for fame and fortune. All are not driven by the need for popularity and peace with others. All are not driven by guilt and shame. But all are driven by the desire to take the path that is most fulfilling and least unsatisfying to themselves.
The “sinner” and “saint” are not separated by their desire for reward. They are separated by the particular types of rewards they value. The sinner values the things of the world while the saint desires the intangible treasures of what he perceives to be a higher world. The man who appears to selflessly sacrifice himself for the world is a martyr by appearances alone. In reality, he is a long-term investor who, by denying himself the enjoyment of what he considers to be less valuable pleasures, is able to reap greater rewards like peace of mind, freedom of conscience, or the joy that comes from helping others.
There is always something at stake for the man who acts.
The man who tries to save a life is also trying to save himself from how he knows he will feel about himself if he refuses to do what he believes is the right thing to do. The man who serves others is also serving his own desire to feel the inner joy that comes from knowing he made a positive difference in another’s life.
One says “I am doing it all for God,” but no one would do anything for God unless it pleased him to do things for God and displeased him to not do things for God.
Another says “but surely I am doing it all for God because I am quite miserable in my life of sacrifice. I could easily have a life of greater comfort and convenience, but I abandon it all for the glory of God and the good of the planet. There is absolutely nothing in it for me.”
I would simply ask this man, “And how much peace would you feel at night if you went to bed believing that you were spending your life doing things that you believe are against the will of God? How much joy would you get out of all those lavish luxuries if you believed that you were selling your soul to obtain them? Surely your decisions are not detached from these considerations. Surely the man who claims to follow God is not neutral towards how it makes him feel, even if at a really deep spiritual level, to make the Creator of the Universe his first priority.
When a man does what he believes is right, it is because he feels most right when he acts in accordance with his ethical standards. In a word, he feels right when he does right and he feels wrong when he does wrong.
However we spin it, self-interest pervades the entire gamut of human action.
The tragedy of self-interest is not that it exists in everything we do; it’s that we have somehow been conditioned to believe that our acts of discipline, nobility, dignity, and creativity are cheapened and undermined by the fact that it is the nature of man to seek a profit of some kind from his own choices.