We all have experienced someone with a “Martyr Complex.” You know the type: they have given everything they can in their life to make the world better, and yet the world just beats them down. They try to make it a point to those around them that they are victims.
We all hate a Martyr Complex (even when we do it ourselves). We hate it because the person acts selfless but is, at the heart of who they are, revealing a selfish soul. It’s an annoying paradox. But what if the opposite were true? Instead of a person appearing selfless motivated by selfishness, can a person appearing selfishly actually be one of the most selfless people you know?
In a recent USA Today article, by Sharon Jayson, she dives into a social study that demonstrates Americans are becoming increasingly egocentric: “There’s an emphasis on uniqueness and greatness, and things being personalized for the individual. . .” says one of the leading scientists.
And we see this in our daily lives. How many people do you know who always turn the focus of a conversation to their lives or, at least, need to control the conversation?
There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first. Jesus retreated often to have some alone time. The trick is to know why we put ourselves first: Jesus retreated to return. What good am I to a hungry man if I also don’t feed myself in order to continue to help?
Rabbi Adin Steinatlz helps clarify how this works in daily life. I mean how do you focus on yourself without sacrificing concern for others? Can I be an egocentric American trying to fulfill the American dream and still do the Christ-like thing of putting others first?
I think Steinsatlz shows us how:
. . . each soul understands and does things in a way not suitable for another soul. Everyone can and should learn from others the proper way of doing things, but in the end each person has to follow his own winding path to the goal that is his heart’s desire. Some lives have an emotional emphasis; others, an intellectual; for some the way of joy is natural; for others, existence is full of effort and struggle; there are people for whom purity of heart is the most difficult thing in the world, while for others it is given as a gift from birth.¹
If you follow BreakfastReading (and if not, subscribe above!), you will find unique voices here. We all have our own nuances in how we see the world and how we handle it. Because of this, you end up with a great landscape — perspectives that take you from the joyous peaks to the painful valleys. To be unique is to be human, and to not cultivate uniqueness is to rob the world of what only you can offer and rob yourself of your humanity. The American dream says we are all graced with uniqueness that can certainly become great. But Steinsatlz encourages us to cultivate our uniqueness in order to be a part of something great. The former is about selfishness; the latter is about self-interest for a greater good.
This is the point of the church as well. The church is cheating the world when it decides to share blanket facebook posts, organize mindless rallies and rely on figureheads to announce their views. If any group or organization could encourage uniqueness towards something great it is the church. Too often though this is discouraged for fear of not being cohesive — but our cohesiveness is not found in unity in our talk or political stance. Just like my father who has children with differing views about many things, we all are unified under the one thing that can never change: our heritage.
We are becoming more individualistic in our society, and I hope that Christians can be the frontrunners in this. The only difference is we have an overarching purpose in doing so, which does not allow our individualism to live in a vacuum or live like a victim. Individualism outside of a greater context becomes egotistical. Individualism within the framework of something greater than yourself becomes something truly beautiful, like losing your life to find it.
¹ Steinsaltz, Adin. 1996. The Thirteen Petalled Rose. New Milford, CT: Maggid Books. pg. 59.
Image credit: flickr.com/photos/57133429@N05