Why Do Some People View ‘Sacrifice’ as a Dirty Word?

Why Do Some People View ‘Sacrifice’ as a Dirty Word? July 27, 2022

One of my favorite definitions of ‘love’ comes from M. Scott Peck. He said that love is the willingness to give of your time, energy, and money to help another person grow. It has become my operating principle in life.

Sometimes this definition of love requires sacrifice.

What Kind of Sacrifice?

Now, I am not talking about the dictionary definition that says ‘sacrifice’ is “an act of slaughtering an animal or person or surrendering a possession as an offering to God or to a divine or supernatural figure.”


I’m talking about another dictionary definition, namely that ‘sacrifice’ is “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.”

Giving Up Something Valued

There is beauty in the second definition. The willingness to give up something valued for the sake of something else that is more important or worthy.

Anyone with a family will know what kind of sacrifice I am talking about; having to give up something valued for a child, a spouse, a mother, a father, or grandparents.

Sacrifice in the Context of Service

I’ve been using the second definition of ‘sacrifice’ in my courses and individual sessions for decades, mainly in the context of love. However, when I created a course about improved interfaith relationships for Charter for Compassion in 2018—a course that I’ve run several times since—I also started using the term in the context of service.

My reasoning was simple. We have a limited amount of time, money, and energy. If we are to help others or work toward improved relations, we have to be willing to sacrifice something else. Some people give up private time at the golf course or TV time; others, such as Gandhi, Betty Williams, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr., sacrifice much more in the name of what they value.

Surprised at Angry Responses

Using ‘sacrifice’ in this context makes sense to me. That is why I was so surprised when I started getting angry responses from several of my online workshop attendees. It began mildly, with them saying that ‘there was no such thing as a sacrifice, only personal choices,’ but escalated when I didn’t immediately agree with them.

For clarification, I did not need them to agree with me. I said they were free to replace the word ‘sacrifice’ with another term that they found more agreeable. But that wasn’t enough for them. They wanted me to delete the word from the course and replace it with something else; a malady of our times.

Trying to Understand Why

I don’t bend to that kind of bullying. Still, when someone is adamant in their resistance to something I am writing or saying, I want to understand why, especially because I am from another country. Sometimes the culture gets lost in translation.

Several of my American friends were as flabbergasted as I was, whereas others, especially those with a Christian background, offered an insight I had not considered. They told me that the term ‘sacrifice’ was used freely in their churches growing up, mainly in the context of duty.


As in, “I have to do this because it is expected of me.”

Sacrifice is a Choice

If that was why people revolted against the word, it makes a certain amount of sense. They must have viewed sacrifice as external pressure, as something expected of them, as a lack of choice, or as something they were forced to do.

But that’s not really ‘sacrifice.’

Sacrifice has to be a personal choice to be meaningful, based on a willingness to give. If I have to do it, or worse, am being forced to do it, it is no longer a sacrifice.

Not Widespread

Granted, only a few people in my courses reacted to ‘sacrifice’ as a dirty word, which means that the idea is not widespread. But it has taken hold in certain circles. And I get it. If people feel like they are being forced to do something against their will, they are likely to rebel.

The Same Word Can Have Different Meanings

Here’s the thing. Words only have meanings that we ascribe to them both individually and collectively. Sometimes the same word can mean different things to different people depending on their life experiences. Don’t believe me? Test what the words ‘God’ and ‘science’ mean to people in different circles, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I Still Like the Word ‘Sacrifice’

That being said, I still like the word ‘sacrifice.’ It is beautiful when people willingly give up something they love or cherish to help another person grow and flourish. Such willingness comes from a place of sacred reverence.

That’s why I’m not going to stop using it, even if the word elicits strong reactions from people who think it has a different meaning.

Hopefully, though, I am better equipped to understand where they are coming from. Because I was curious.

Gudjon Bergmann
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
Amazon Author Profile

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Picture: CC0 License


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