This brings forward, almost immediately, the idea of controlling or attempt to control someone else for your own means. I think back to 7th grade science class when we talked about symbiotic and parasitic relationships between organisms and I suppose it isn’t too far-fetched to see a manipulation of another for one’s own end slighter better when this is symbiotic rather than parasitic; helpful or neutral rather than harmful.
Of course, we must wonder about ‘being helpful’ by whose standards. Almost every war or battle fought has been justified in someone’s mind that it is in self-defense, preservation or for the greater common good. While most would agree that outright manipulating others for your own good at their expense is a bad thing, I’d argue for me the devil is in the subtler details of fooling myself that I am helping myself under the guise of an altruistic end.
One of my favorite plays is Les Miserable, and I’m a sucker for a good ‘Master of the House.’
“Glad to do a friend a favor, Doesn’t cost me to be nice….But nothing gets you nothing, Everything has got a little price!” The song, if you aren’t familiar, highlight describes the master of an inn who appears to care and give, but is just about filling his own pockets. This is a manipulation to be avoided.
The subtler form, I suppose, is when we fool ourselves to think our good deeds to help others is of pure intention when it ends up doing some larger harm or profiting only ourselves. The crusades would be a good example of this. The German holocaust. Even the devil himself was an angel once.
So, I reflect on this. Let me assume I can avoid outright manipulation of another for my own desires. Let’s even go so far to as to assume when I do good for others, I can put aside my own ideology or philosophy for a bit and truly empathize with what they need now and truly provide help or subsistence. The tricky piece for myself would be those times I help others and receive something in return. Pay, good will, status, even a positive recommendation leaves the opening this was done, at least in part, for my own benefit.
So, when do going for others, is there a way I can do that without the need for repayment or accolades? Can it be done in secret, or at least privately, to avoid this risk?
I suppose something I can work on and think about. For example, I like being generous. But I also like being a generous person. I don’t confuse generosity on my part with good deeds or altruism. My generosity has gains for me. Perhaps a purer way would be to give to others outside public view.
Which, raises a bit of mind fuck for me at the end. I’ve struggled some with seeing my Christianity as something that is truly humanistic and good, when it is done (even in part) to avoid hellfire and damnation?
I remember something my Old Testament professor said once at my college. Dr. Buehler said something like, “The true test of any faith is found when you ask yourself, ‘Would you live the same way if there was no reward or punishment after you die?’” Is the faith you hold, the action it drives, worth it apart from these motivations? And if not, is it faith or bargain with God to avoid punishment.
“Welcome, Monsieur, sit yourself down….and meet the best innkeeper in town…”