Is Self-Sacrifice Selfish?

What comes to mind when you think of self-sacrifice?

If you are a Christian, I know you are thinking of how Jesus gave up his life to save the human race…

If you are a student, you are thinking of how you are giving up your free time that you’d otherwise spend socializing on your studies to get better grades…

If you are a business person, you are thinking of how you are dedicating every waking hour of your day and your resources to your business…

And if you are a mother, and especially a young mid-twenties one, you are thinking of how you have may have given up a promising career to raise your bundle of joy…

Well, there are other examples of self-sacrifice that spring to mind but allow me to challenge your thinking a little bit here.

There is ALWAYS a Selfish Happy Ending or the Hope of One

Notice how in most cases of self-sacrifice there is always a happy ending for the one making that sacrifice or their friends or families?

Jesus went back to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, the Father…

The student gets better grades than he could have if he hadn’t given up his free time and he ends up pursuing his dream career…

The business person becomes successful and her children and grandchildren will never have to work hard to earn a living…

And the mother gets the satisfaction of seeing her young baby blossom into a well-mannered citizen who pays their taxes, obeys the Ten Commandments, and has beautiful grandchildren…

Take out the Jesus example and you’ll find that in most cases of self-sacrifice where you are not giving your life up, there is a happy ending for you or your loved ones.

You give up your time to achieve something you can be proud of in the future.

You give up your resources so that someone you love can live a comfortable life.

It’s always directly beneficial to you or the people you love… an immortality project.

What if there isn’t a Happy Ending for you or the people you love?

As I write this, the Coronavirus, Covid-19, has torn through a few countries and claimed hundreds of lives.

At some point, Italy was burying hundreds of people every day and it is expected that this will happen in a few other countries in the coming weeks or months.

In the midst of this, there are health workers who are putting their lives in danger to take care of the sick. They are risking their lives to improve the lives of people they don’t know personally.

They are not their friends or family members. They are just a bunch of strangers who need help to survive. Strangers who need to be comforted and given hope.

If it were up to the friends and families of those doctors and nurses, they would stop them from going to the hospital to put themselves at risk. Although they may understand what role the doctors and nurses have to play, deep down they would selfishly want them to stay at home… let the other doctors and nurses deal with the problem.

But the doctors and nurses won’t have that. They have a responsibility and are willing to put themselves in harm’s way so that we can end the pandemic.

If something went wrong and they became critically ill, they would lose their lives saving people they had no affiliation with before the pandemic. Their families would mourn the loss of a loved one knowing that if things had gone differently, they would still be alive.

“What if he had become an engineer instead of a doctor?” They’d ask themselves.

“What if she had become an architect rather than a doctor?” They’d reminisce.

What about those who die fighting a war

Although people can sit back and with the benefit of hindsight think that a pandemic was avoidable, they may accept it as a natural phenomenon that went out of their control. 

But what about war?

Think of the people who enlist to fight in a war that was created because some political leaders decided that war was the only solution.

Now young men and women have to go kill each other in the name of patriotism or some larger course like political freedom.

I think people who fight and die in a war pay the ultimate price of self-sacrifice.

War, as we have seen before, is completely AVOIDABLE.

If Hitler had been a bit less ambitious and used his nationalistic rhetoric to build a strong economy “to show them that we can be more prosperous than them” rather than have the grand ambition of ruling the world, maybe WW2 would never have happened.

If Napoleon Bonaparte had not been so ambitious and decided to consolidate his power in a smaller territory, maybe not too many of his men could have died in Russia.

If Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary had not been an arrogant twat and avoided going unguarded to a hostile region, maybe WW1 could have been averted (like the war between the USSR and the US was when J. F. Kennedy ignored advisors who were urging him to strike).

There were other close shaves during the Cold War, and perhaps the Archduke not exposing himself could have been their JFK moment… the close shave that averted the First World War.

But now Hitler, Napoleon, and Archduke Ferdinand had to make foolish decisions and sacrifice the lives of millions.

Imagine you were a hot-blooded 20-year-old serving in the army during a World War. Rather than spend your time making silly decisions and having fun, you are busy trying to survive.

Your enemy isn’t calling you stupid on social media or refusing to call you back, they are trying to shoot you in the head or bomb the sh*t out of you. You are responding in kind but the chances of getting out of it alive are 50-50 (worse if your army has crap equipment and your army generals are useless).

There is no good outcome for you here for your self-sacrifice. Either you die or you survive and are handicapped or mentally scarred for life.

You may be thinking: “But you are wrong David, soldiers die heroes!”

Well, forget that hero nonsense, you will just be a name out of thousands of other names and your impact will be wiped out after one or two generations.

(Even we who are not engaged in a war will be forgotten, but at least we will have had a chance to enjoy our lives).

But why are you there sacrificing yourself? To preserve the freedom of your countrymen and to ensure that your country remains sovereign and lives on for a thousand years!

If you are fighting for political freedom, your bravery will reward other people with the freedom to speak their minds (and abuse that freedom by being abusive little shits on social media).

The endgame for a soldier’s self-sacrifice is death and the people who reap the rewards will not even know they existed.

But perhaps you have made peace with that… and, therefore, believe that the price of the freedoms of future generations has to be paid with your blood.

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