Published in The Ferndale Record-Journal
A long time ago, in a lifetime far removed from the one I’m living, I was a consultant. I love that word. It’s really a catchall, don’t you think?
In my case, I advised people on how to lose weight by finding their latent self-esteem. I’m embarrassed to admit this because now I know the truth. It was the wrong way to try and accomplish a good thing.
Not that a healthy self-image is a bad thing. But building up oneself is not the way to real peace and happiness. Lifting others is.
Our society of indulgence and self-focus, and the media’s emphasis on such behavior makes it appear natural and right. A quick question here. How many people do you know who are truly happy and at peace in their lives?
Here’s the irony: The more we concentrate on ourselves and our own needs, the further we get from where we ultimately want to be. That is, of course, assuming we’re all looking for true happiness. Service and focus on others brings us more contentment than we’ll ever know chasing selfish agendas.
I wish I knew about this from more first-hand experience than I actually do. But I know it’s the truth because of what I’ve seen—and occasionally because of how I’ve felt.
Maybe, like me, on a few occasions you’ve had the chance to meet or associate with someone who positively changed your life in someway. Maybe it was a relative, or even someone famous.
But whoever it was, you knew that this person was different from most of us. He or she was kind, gracious and completely devoid of self-focus. This person made you feel as though there was no one else in the room—they were all about you and what you needed.
Chances are this person didn’t want anything from you. He or she wasn’t trying to sell you a product or enter your life under false pretenses. He didn’t consider himself better than anyone else. And it was almost overwhelming in its effect on you.
If at a time like this, you sensed you were in the presence of greatness, it’s because you were.
In her book, “Confronting The Myth of Self-Esteem,” author Ester Rasband relates what she calls a folk tale.
“A young man died, and upon arrival at the Pearly Gates was treated to a tour of heaven and hell before his final assignment. Hell was first, and he was surprised to find it a room of lavish banquet tables, laden with wonderful things to eat.
The people there, however, were emaciated and crying out in hunger. The only way to gain access to the food was with extremely long-handled spoons permanently attached to their hands.
When they tried to put the spoons to their mouths, they found it impossible to reach. So the residents of this home of the damned cried out in anguish as well as hunger.
The young man on the tour averted his eyes in horror. To see these people starving in the midst of plenty was more than he could bear. He begged to be taken away from this place.
Imagine the young man’s surprise on arrival in heaven when he saw identical tables and identical food. The people here, however were well fed and happy. There was laughter and music and delight.
At first, the young man thought that the access to the food must be easier. Then he saw it. The food had to be eaten with the same long-handled spoons. The people in heaven, however, had discovered that the long-handled spoons worked very well to feed the food to each other.”
Human beings are naturally self-absorbed. It takes practice and commitment to let go of our egos. But it’s possible—even doable.
Maybe we can’t each go to New Orleans and build homes for the homeless, or fly to Darfur and help ease the burdens of a country. But what we can do is around us everyday—we can lift others.
Do you have self-centered children? Arrange for them to serve at a soup kitchen. Do you feel sorry for yourself? Volunteer at the hospital. Are you like me and tend to be reclusive? Step outside and say hello to a neighbor you haven’t seen all winter. Make it about someone else for a change.
Then, expect the joy that a long-handled spoon can dish up.