We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other. Unless we do this, other creatures will not be recognized for their true worth; we are unconcerned about caring for things for the sake of others; we fail to set limits on ourselves in order to avoid the suffering of others or the deterioration of our surroundings. Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.
Which makes me think about Uncle Screwtape’s remarks on Unselfishness:
The grand problem is that of “unselfishness”. Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy’s positive Charity. Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. As a result, a woman who is quite far gone in the Enemy’s service will make a nuisance of herself on a larger scale than any man except those whom Our Father has dominated completely; and, conversely, a man will live long in the Enemy’s camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please others as a quite ordinary woman may do every day. Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of Screwtape’s take on women (and do recall that the devil is a liar), but I can definitely attest that, in my own case, I tend to be a “Good fences make good neighbors” kinda guy. Part of the attraction of the Faith to me was precisely its catholicity: the sheer variety of the place that allows really different people to pursue their distinct and different lives without a conformist peer pressure such as you find in cramped sectarianism. As such, I have always tended to relate to people on the theory that not sticking my nose into their lives is what good neighbors do. Consequently, the idea of proactive charity that takes trouble for others is not really on my radar. I’m not actively hurting so what’s the trouble?
The trouble, Shea, is that you don’t tend to actively help people, much less proactively. You don’t get sins of omission.