Ironically, I’m convinced it comes from selfishness and self-absorption. Sounds ridiculous, right? If we were doing what’s selfish, we’d clearly pick what’s best for us. Not so, dear reader.
It’s like we’re on a game show: “Well, contestant one, you’ve got some great prizes here.
- “Door # 1: A vacation to Ghana: where you’ll be steeped in culture, go on a photo safari, and have the opportunity to build 15 water wells and help implement a new educational curriculum in several local grade schools.
- “Door # 2: A vacation to Las Vegas: where you’ll stay at the luxurious Bellagio, see Cirque de Soleil and Blue Man group, gamble away a year’s worth of savings, and get so drunk that you cheat on your significant other. But boy, will it be fun.
- “Door # 3: Mystery vacation: You could end up in the middle of Death Valley, CA or escape to your own private island at the Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, in Maldives. (Small print: chances of Death Valley are significantly higher, given the number of spaces allotted to it on the roulette wheel.)”
I contend that an unfortunate majority of people would choose number two or number three. They’d look at three and say: “Pure luxury! One of the Top 10 beach resorts in the entire world. So what if I end up in Death Valley? At least I tried!” Never mind that the odds are in favor of this choice being worse than either of the other two options.
They’d look at number two and say: “Hey! That sounds fun. A few minor side-effects, but I can work through it. How nice it would feel to run around with abandon.” This would be life-changing, more than anyone would willingly admit to themselves. But it’s a good time. To heck with consequences.
And they’d look at number one and say: “What? No way. It’s dirty, not at all luxurious, and I’d have to work! Maybe the safari would be cool, but not at that cost.” Of course they’d discount that it would get them outside of their narrow world view, encourage meaningful service, allow them to make a difference in the world and that this would change their lives forever, too – for the better.
I’ve no doubt that some of you, dear readers, are offended by my assumptions about your character. Of course these scenarios are exaggerated to make a point, and I implicate myself, not you, among the historically poor decision makers. Even the fear of the unknown is not enough to dissuade me from the fear of the known good sometimes.
Why? I’m selfish.
I’ve wondered some about my decision to come to London. It wasn’t something that was actively on my radar screen (it was always beeping, somewhere in the distance, thanks to kind offers from my family), but making it a reality popped in my head months ago, and I couldn’t remove it. More than that, everything seemed to work out to promote my coming over here: generosity on the part of my workplace, my family here in London, and my family in the States, support and encouragement from people that are meaningful to me, and of course a program that provided exactly what I was interested in. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’m given in my life, and I’m not ignorant of all the people that make them possible. But back to the point at hand: Am I choosing door one, two, or three?
Is there some greater purpose to my time here? (I’ve had some experiences and made some realizations that could support a yes answer.) Is it completely selfish? (Again, I’ve had some experiences and made some realizations that could support a yes answer.) Or am I just throwing my dice on the table in game of Craps, hoping that life will bring me something good?
The problem with answering these questions often comes not from purposeful selfishness, but from the selfishness created by not knowing what one wants. It sounds silly, I know. But people overcome the desire for door two and the silly risk of door three all the time. Every day. These are the people who know what they want — and won’t settle for less than the guaranteed method of achieving it. And while acting based on what you ultimately want is a form of selfishness, usually most people’s ultimate goals also benefit others.
When you don’t know what you want, what’s the risk in door three, or the harm in door two? And although the consequences are still real, they don’t seem to matter so much in the short term. Hence the above thinking about door one; selfishness from short-sightedness. Maybe the need for door one increases with the people least likely to select it. One of my favorite adages is: “You can have anything you want, but not everything.” Life is full of trade-offs, but the problem with not knowing what you really want is that you may discover you made a bad trade: got the Maserati, but can’t afford food or a house anymore.
So, how do you decide what you really want? By being less selfish. It’s a bit of a Catch 22, isn’t it? Now my question has to be, can you become less selfish while you’re still in the middle of experiencing door two? Can you be drunk in Vegas, attending Zumanity (bleh) and even gain enough self-awareness to be less selfish?
Luckily for me, I’m pretty certain I didn’t pick door two, but I have to ask myself, just in case.