I recently read a book by CS Lewis titled Surprised By Joy. It was different from any other CS Lewis book I’ve read, more of a biography really. Starting with his childhood, he journeyed through his life, and I read with interest as he moved from Christian to atheist to deist and back to Christian. Like all his nonfiction work, I was bobbing just at the surface of comprehension most of the time. Several concepts caused me to reread the same pages several times hoping his thought process would sink through my dullness. One of his many thought-provoking concepts is the topic of this post.
He helped me see there is a difference between being selfish and being self-centered. Both have a central focus of self, but selfishness does so to the exclusion of other people’s needs or longings. Selfishness has no conscience. Selfishness has no problem using others for the good of self. However, being self-centered still allows for acts of service to others and cringes at even the thought of hurting them. Yet the person who is self-centered expects a payoff – they want to feel good about their service. They may distance themselves from specific acts of charity, even if it truly helps others, if it leaves them unfulfilled. Self-centered people may also find it necessary to receive acclaim or recognition for their generosity of time, talent, or treasure.
Both situations can be modeled by whirlwinds. Self-centered people spin about expelling charity to others, but their energy to give depends upon what self-satisfaction can be vacuumed into their vortex. On the other hand, selfishness is a whirlwind that only captures. It never releases what it takes, and it can never take in enough.
I honestly don’t know where my heart lands between these two attitudes. I want to think I’m closer to self-centered, but I can easily catch myself being selfish. I’m less selfish today than I was five years ago. I’m making progress, and I take comfort in that fact. Honestly, sometimes I have fleeting moments selflessness. As crazy as it sounds, all three of these seem to inhabit me. Regardless, the distance to where I want to be (selflessness) seems far away. I’m pretty sure I’ll run out of time before I fully arrive there.
I trust some of you CS Lewis fans will have your opinions on what he meant on this topic. I want to read those opinions. These are just the thoughts that came to me from the reading.