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  • Writer's pictureElise Brianne Todd

On Unselfishness

Please, I ask with all earnestness for you to please read the excerpt below:

"When once a sort of official, legal, or nominal Unselfishness has been established as a rule - a rule for the keeping of which their emotional resources have died away and their spiritual resources have not yet grown - the most delightful results follow. In discussing any joint action, it becomes obligatory that A should argue in favour of B's supposed wishes and against his own, while B does the opposite. It is often impossible to find out either party's real wishes; with luck, they end by doing something that neither wants, while each feels a glow of self-righteousness and harbours a secret claim to preferential treatment for the unselfishness shown and a secret grudge against the other for the ease with which the sacrifice has been accepted. Later on you can venture on what may be called the Generous Conflict Illusion. This game is best played with more than two players, in a family with grown-up children for example. Something quite trivial, like having tea in the garden, is proposed. One member takes care to make it quite clear (though not in so many words) that he would rather not but is, of course, prepared to do so out of "Unselfishness". The others instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their "Unselfishness", but really because they don't want to be used as a sort of lay figure on which the first speaker practices petty altruisms. But he is not going to be done out of his debauch of Unselfishness either. He insists on doing "what the others want". They insist on doing what he wants. Passions are roused. Soon someone is saying "Very well then, I won't have any tea at all!", and a real quarrel ensues with bitter resentment on both sides. You see how it is done? If each side had been frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and each side is fighting the other side's battle, all the bitterness which really flows from thwarted self-righteousness and obstinacy and the accumulated grudges of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official "Unselfishness" of what they are doing or, at least, held to be excused by it. Each side is, indeed, quite alive to the cheap quality of the adversary's Unselfishness and of the false position into which he is trying to force them; but each manages to feel blameless and ill-used itself, with no more dishonesty than comes natural to a human."

This is from C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, where the author acts as a demon mentoring a younger demon in how to lead men to sin and death.

It has always frustrated me so much when my friends don't tell me what they want. There is so much, "whatever you want!" and "I don't care" and "you can decide" in my life. I feel like I am ALWAYS the person making decisions. I get so fed up with trying to prod what they actually want out of them, that I just make a random decision because I'm tired of wasting time! After reading this chapter (ch. 26) of The Screwtape Letters, I immediately put down my book, grabbed my computer, and started writing this post, because it angers me so much to see that this vice has become so ingrained in my society. False humility. "Self-conscious unselfishness" as C.S. Lewis perfectly calls it. I wish everyone could read these words. I wish every one of my college-age friends could understand the ugly and evil nature of false humility. I wish we could actually recognise it when we see it.

Since I know not everyone is going to try, much less even read to the end of this post, all I can do is my own part. I have been so guilty of this sin in the past and I resolve to try to eradicate it from my life. You won't hear me saying "whatever you want" the next time I have an opinion!


Elise Brianne Todd


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