The Empire of me

A couple of weeks ago, my son, Sean, told me with considerable pride that he has finally quit smoking. He celebrated his fifth smoke-less month on May 1st. After congratulating him, I asked him what made him finally do it this time (Sean, a smoker since he was 15 had tried and failed several times over the years.)

“Dad, he said, this time, my resolution to quit smoking wasn't about me. On New Year's Day, I resolved to quit because I knew how worried you and Kathleen are about my health. I wanted to give you guys the gift of my giving up smoking.

Sean went on to tell me that he had been reading Vicktor Frankl's “Man's Search For Meaning,” which is the story of a Jewish psychiatrist's survival in Auschwitz during World War ll. Frankl wrote that, in his experience in the camp, the survivors tended to be the inmates that had something or rather SOMEONE to live for. “All of a sudden, I got it,” said Sean, “that the reason these guys survived was for someone they loved, not so much for themselves. I thought I'd do the same thing, give up smoking for you guys.

I was delighted that Sean quit smoking but got even more of a rush that he gave it up out of love for Kathleen and myself. We live, after all, in a culture that is distrustful of people doing things for others. Just take a look at the various Survivor shows on T.V. The victory is not to the person who is honest and unselfish but to the manipulator who manages to outsmart the other participants. That mentality has seeped into our values. We reward the one who looks out for him/herself first.

They used to call the 70's the decade of the “Me generation.” Seems to me, we have returned there with a bang. How often these days do you hear women actually apologizing on some T.V. talk show for having put their kids first ? What's that about? Then, the guru of the day will utter some kind of pycho babble that goes like “It's all right, honey. You didn't know any better. The important thing is that now you have to put yourself first.” What a crock !

Women and men too, should BOAST about being unselfish enough to put their kids first or having sacrificed themselves for a cause greater than themselves. These moms and dads deserve a standing ovation not a patronizing pat on the head.

The reality is that when you live only to please yourself, you are setting yourself up for failure. In the long run, it simply doesn't work. We will accomplish nothing in our lives if our motivation comes only from taking care of what someone has called “the empire of me.” We are meant for much more than the personal stuff we can accumulate. Trust me, life's real winners are not the ones who end up with the most toys but those who have had the happiness of giving their toys away. The deepest satisfaction in life still comes not from filling up your own Christmas stocking but from filling up those of your loved ones.

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