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I recently received an email from a close friend regarding how selfish and how generous one should be in life. We often talk about spiritual and personal growth, and she’s really what Miracle Mile Girls is all about. She studies Kabbalah, which encourages (among other things) generosity as a way to lead happier, more fulfilling, and abundant lives. She said that she has been trying to implement this idea of generosity and sharing into her own life, but she’s not been seeing many results and she isn’t living a fabulously joyful life.
She said she feels that even though Kabbalah says to give and always be “good,” she feels we must also be selfish and egocentric, because otherwise we’ll end up just giving everything away and no one will come when we need help. She addressed the Law of Attraction, which says you receive what you put out. If that’s the case, people who are generous to a fault and seem incapable of saying “no” to someone should be rolling in riches, romance, and friends. We all know that’s not the case. These kinds of people are called people-pleasers, which is just a nicer way of calling someone a doormat. So what gives?
From my friend’s email:
Always giving and sharing everywhere and with everyone can make you feel powerless and waste your energy – to the point that you aren’t able to even think about yourself or your basic needs. And life and life’s happiness supposed to be about you, as well? To be happier, more fulfilled, and more abundant?
Of course, it’s important to share. But there are times when you have to focus 100% on your own goal and stop giving so much of yourself to the point where there’s nothing of you left. Because in that moment, we lose all our energy needed to accomplish our own goals, and put stress on our physical and emotional health. Egoism can be worth its weight in gold.
Reading her email forced me to really think about this. Can you be generous and have an abundant, fruitful life? Is selfishness really bad? Are all those spiritual systems based on love and goodwill just hoaxes? Is the Law of Attraction a scam? Should we all just bunker down with whatever we manage to scrape by and tell anyone who wants a bit to bugger off? My friend’s problems and struggles with generosity and selfishness mirrored my own, so I decided to dig a little deeper.
Find the Relationship between Selfishness and Generosity
There is a positive correlative relationship between Selfishness and Generosity that is based on the Law of Attraction. I know this may sound like an oxymoron; aren’t selfishness and generosity opposite things?
Yes and no.
Yes, they are opposite things when viewed from a purely physical, ego-driven level. Grabbing that last rosemary lemon scone for myself is certainly not a display of generosity.
But no, they are not opposite things when viewed from a spiritual, wisdom-driven level. Not doing your slacker friend’s homework is both selfish and generous, because you’re taking care of your needs while forcing your friend to reap the benefits doing the work herself.
In the latter case, your “selfishness” attracts your “generosity” and they both work to attract behavior, reactions, and situations into your life that are actually beneficial to you.
It’s Like a Celebrity Feud
Two stars feud in public, but their symbiotic relationship works for mutual profit. Sometimes, they don’t even hate each other at all. Regardless of their like or dislike for each other, however, their feuds are relationships which benefit the grander scheme (usually somebody’s pocketbook, as well as their own).
It’s the same with Selfishness and Generosity. Those two are like this:
When you look at it from a spiritual perspective, they are two sides of the same coin. What is truly best for you will lead you to act in such a way that is also truly best for the other person.
Generosity vs. Indulgence
Sharing, loving, giving and being kind doesn’t mean you INDULGE the people around you in their every whim and character weakness.
Giving a child his fourth piece of cake isn’t love or kindness. Rather, it’s a weakness on YOUR part that you can’t muster up the strength to look the child in the eye and say “no.” Strength – real strength – the kind where you stick to you guns because you do what’s right even if it makes you unpopular, is real love. Not a temporary gratification of fleeting desires.
Giving in into your significant other’s every demand also is not love, but indulgence. You’re doing them no favors by yes-and-ing their need for gratification.
Indulging other people is also bad for you. It’s not merely an annoyance. Indulging other people is indulging also yourself – your weaknesses, that is. Instead of holding your ground, you’re choosing the weak and easy way out. Instead of being ok with dealing with the temporary pain of having to say “no” to someone you love and feeling their wrath for a while, you band-aid the situation and create much greater and lasting pain for yourself on a spiritual level.
Going back to Kabbalah
To put it simply, one of the main principles of Kabbalah is that everything is energy and that we attract the life we live according to the energy we express.
If we want good things to come to us, we must express good energy. We must go to the “good energy” stream and swim there, instead of going to the “bad energy” stream.
Kabbalah says that based on this Law of Attraction, we must be good if we want good things : i.e. we must share, even when we don’t have a lot; we must give love, even when we feel unloved; we must show kindness, even when we’ve been hurt.
This sounds very simple, but it becomes complicated once we try to define what is “good” and what is “bad.”
Many people, myself included, tend to look at outward, physical, ego-driven things when they attempt to label what is good or bad. This becomes problematic when something that appears good on the physical level is actually bad on the spiritual level. Giving an extra piece of cake to an enraged child seems good on the physical level, but is actually bad for both you and the child on the spiritual level. Refusing to help your friend on homework seems bad on the physical level, but is actually good on the spiritual level for you both.
If we connect ourself to what is truly the best for ourselves, we automatically connect to what is truly the best for other people. Many times, what is truly the best for ourselves means NOT indulging other people, which is also what is truly best for them. What may seem like egocentrism in the moment is actually true love towards another person, and by extension, true love towards yourself. In this way, “egocentrism” can be the highest form of love. It’s loving the other person and yourself enough to where you refuse to hold them and to anything other but the highest, best, most respectful, and most loving standard. It’s seeing the ultimate potential in the other person, and saying “you are much better than what you are exhibiting at the moment.”
Indulging other people’s weaknesses is indulging in your own weakness to say no and rise above the garbage. It’s saying “I’m not better than this, and neither are you.” It’s taking the “meh energy” stream. And real love is definitely not “meh.”
What do you think? I’ve struggled with guilt in the whole selfish/generous thing a lot, and right now this makes sense to me. Can you be a good person and look after your own interests?
My friend’s email lead me to another realization, but I will save that for the next post!
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