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.