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“A newborn baby wrapped in a hospital blanket crying in Middletown” by Tim Bish on Unsplash

Why we start out selfish and egotistical (as I see it… humbly)

So if God is the connection all people have to each other and to all other living things, and if faith is the knowledge of that connection, and if the purpose of our lives is to learn to gain the knowledge of that connection, then we must be starting from somewhere where we do not have knowledge of that connection. That is in fact the case.

Since knowledge of our connection with all other people is the essence of faith, then egotism is the opposite of faith. If we are focused on ourselves to the exclusion of others, then that inward focus serves as a barrier to the connection to others. That is why a loving relationship with another involves expanding our ego boundaries to include another. Since God is love, whenever we look outwardly from ourselves, we are making contact with God.

So the central struggle of our lives is the struggle between our ego and our goal of learning to be faithful. That is why a marriage can be such a great opportunity for learning faith. A good marriage forces us to relinquish our egotism and take another person into account. The arguing that is an essential element to any good marriage is actually a microcosm of that struggle: our ego is fighting back against its immersion into the relationship. Once we have made progress in overcoming our ego boundaries, accomplished through years of work as a married couple, we have opened ourselves up to our external connection not only to our spouse, but also to all other living beings.

Marriage is not the only forum where we can be exposed to this outward connection. Any situation where we need to establish and maintain long-term relationships with others gives us that opportunity. It could be within the context of a friendship, a work relationship, a relationship with a parent or child, or even a relationship between you and your customers. Any time you need to lower your ego boundaries to take into consideration the needs and concerns of another, you are opening yourself up to the connection that exists between all of us.

So where does the ego come from that stands in the way of our connection to the almighty? When we are born, we are absolutely 100% egotistical. Unlike other creatures, as babies we are completely unable to take care of ourselves. All we care about are our own specific needs at that specific moment. So when we feel those needs, whether it be that we’re hungry, thirsty, tired or have a dirty diaper, we cry. And we cry. Essentially, we throw a temper tantrum until someone pays attention to us and addresses our immediate need. We don’t care if our parents are sleeping, eating, tired or sick. We want our need taken care of immediately without any consideration to anyone else. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how we’re built.

There are very few other creatures who are as helpless as we are at birth. Horses stand up almost immediately. Cats quickly have the ability to fend for themselves. Humans, on the other hand, spend years of near total dependency on our parents. As a result, we start out as the most egotistical of creatures.

This inauspicious start, however, like every challenge we face in our lives, can be seen as an opportunity for learning. It is humanly impossible for our parents to predict what we need or when. As a result, one of the first lessons we learn in our lives is that even if we want something, there is no way for us to get it immediately. The few minutes that may elapse during which the baby cries and the parents look for how to satisfy its needs, those minutes provide the baby with the opportunity to understand that there may be limitations on getting its needs met. This is the first lesson toward appreciating the needs of others.

The moment of our birth, then, is the moment of our ultimate egotism and selfishness. From that moment on, throughout our lives, we will be faced with opportunities to become less and less egotistical and more and more aware of our connection to others. In this way, we shift throughout our lives from the inward focus of our birth through our learning opportunities to the outward focus of faith.

Everyone is somewhere on that learning curve. There are some people who are extremely faithful and whose generosity and openness to others is truly remarkable. Those are the people who are farther along on that learning curve. There are others who have not progressed very far at all, and behave with an appalling selfishness. These are people who have not made much progress with their learning.

I’m sure you have at least one person in your life, and maybe more than that, who is very egotistical. It’s embarrassing to see a grown adult throw a temper tantrum when he or she doesn’t get what they want, but that does happen. That person is behaving more like the baby than the faithful, outward-focused person. Generally speaking, people who behave like that are unhappy with their lives. That frustration is not surprising, because they are failing in the purpose of their lives. To the person who clings to his or her egotism rather than opening themselves up to the connection to others, the difficulties they face in life are just bad things happening to them. They close their eyes to the fact that these difficulties are in fact opportunities for growth. As a result, they don’t get the benefits of the knowledge these growth opportunities can bring. They never gain the knowledge that is faith, and so never get the comfort that faith can bring. Instead, they just get angry and frustrated that bad things keep happening to them. Until they can lower the walls they have built up around their ego and open themselves up to the lessons these challenges present to them, they will never find faith and ultimately happiness.

Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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