“Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”
― St. Francis of Assisi
The most selfless story I’ve ever heard is that of Jesus Christ. He dedicated himself to serving us and to bringing us truth, and despite the extreme persecution he faced, his compassion caused him to soldier on, even in the face of an excruciating death.
Jesus acted out of pure selflessness. When given the choice between serving himself and serving others, he chose others. Christian-haters will tell you that Jesus may have simply been delusional and craving fame (the very fame that he achieved with greater success than any other historical figure). They will say that he was acting out of a deluded sense of self-importance, and was therefore completely self-centred. But this is what secularists do best. Where there is truth they bring lies. Where there is good they bring evil.
In regulating my own behaviour I follow the examples of Christ, Buddha and other great, selfless men, and while they inspire me beyond measure, I also follow my own golden rule. I am reminded of this rule multiple times a day, and I use it as a cornerstone to measuring the depth and degree of my own selflessness. I have never shared it with anyone before, but I do so now with the hope that you will benefit from it.
Always take the small serving.
Always take the small serving. This is my golden rule.
Think about the times when you serve food to others. You place it on a plate, and at some point you notice that one of the plates has a smaller serving than the others. Who gets that plate? You do.
This rule is so simple that it borders on moronic, but selflessness is most sincere when it’s subtle. It is easy to be selfless once in a while, and on a grander scale, but such repetitive and otherwise inconsequential actions test one’s true self.
These small acts of selflessness, while seemingly easy to perform, are due to their repetitiveness the most difficult. You can do them once and think it’s easy, but try doing them several times a day, every day, and you will really start to test your resolve.
I can not count the number of times in which I have been tempted to take the larger serving. Ice cream and bacon in particular are a most potent kryptonite. I stare at them and want so badly to take more than my fair share, and within myself begins the battle of truth. The want is further enhanced by nobody ever noticing the difference. I however do know the difference, and when faced with this dilemma I know that if I take the larger serving for myself, I will weaken my spirit, and my resolve towards selflessness.
This golden rule extends further into spiritual practice by testing humility. It may be hard to believe, but my wife has never heard of my golden rule. After ten years together it seems she still hasn’t noticed that she always gets the bowl with the most ice cream in it, or the cup with the most juice in it, or the seat with the best view. In all things large and small I try to put her first, and this extends to my interactions with others, also. I don’t do it for praise, but for spiritual progress.
When you do these sorts of things, and you sense that you are doing good to yourself and to others, there is always the temptation to talk about it. Talking about the good you do is a mitigated version of bragging, and bragging is born of the ego. As bragging is of the ego, doing it feeds the ego.
Humility is the secret ingredient to all spiritual growth. Don’t talk about what you do other than to help others. Don’t let it feed your pride, and don’t start thinking you’re better than anybody else. You may be selfless, but by talking about it you’re walking into a river with a calm surface and strong undercurrents. All of your sacrifice will be washed away, and you with it.
While the benefits of selflessness are countless, such that this could easily be a 2000 word article, there is one more that I wish to share.
If you practice the golden rule you will begin to notice others like you, and you will become a much better judge of character as a result. The selfless are the only people you can truly trust. They are our spiritual superiors, hence why it is the fundamental trait of all great spiritual leaders. Selflessness tends towards the true nature of God. Love, compassion, and faith are all traits that depend on selflessness. Becoming selfless makes it easier to identify with all three, both within yourself and within others.
For example, while I think nobody else has noted it, I have seen my mother-in-law following the golden rule. She doesn’t even know that I know, and we’ve never discussed it. It’s something she does because she has it in her heart to. The fact that I know this about her (and about others like her) enhances my life and my personal relationships significantly. I know who I can trust, and I know who tends their heart towards purity.
As we move towards doing good, good and evil become far easier to identify.
God gave us life. He gave us the world. He gave us his love. And he gave us his son. We too must give, each and every day. The golden rule ensures that we do.