Brooks: The morality of selfism

Brooks: The morality of selfism

January 5th, 2019 by David Brooks / New York Times in Opinion Free Press Commentary

You probably want to be a good person. But you may also be completely self-absorbed. So you may be thinking, "There is no way I can be good if I'm also a narcissist. Isn't being good all about caring about other people?"

But how wrong you are!

We live in a culture of selfism — a culture that puts tremendous emphasis on self, on self-care and self-display. And one of the things we've discovered is that you can be a very good person while thinking only about yourself!

Back in the old days people thought morality was about living up to some external standard of moral excellence. Abraham Lincoln tried to live a life of honesty and courage. Mother Teresa tried to live up to a standard of selfless love.

But now we know this is actually harmful! In the first place, when people hold up external standards of moral excellence, they often make you feel judged. Those people make you feel sad because you may not live up to this standard. It's very cruel of them to make you feel troubled in this way!

When somebody does this, you should just say, "That makes me feel judged," and just walk away. Don't stoop to their level!

The second problem with these external standards is that they are very hard to relate to. People are always talking about how Nelson Mandela came out of prison and tried to usher in an era of forgiveness and reconciliation. That's all good for Nelson Mandela, but what does this have to do with your life?

If people are talking to you, shouldn't they be focusing their attention on your life? Shouldn't they be saying things you can relate to?

The good news is that these days we don't base our values on moral excellence. We base them on meaning. People are always saying they want to lead a meaningful life.

One great thing about meaning is it's all about the emotions you yourself already have. We say that an experience has meaning when that tingly meaningful feeling wells up inside. Picture yourself shopping at a farmers market where everything's locally grown. Do you feel the tingly meaningful feeling welling up inside? Of course you do!

The other great thing about meaning is that everybody gets to define meaning in his or her own way. You don't have to read a lot of thick books or have hard experiences to feel meaning.

So now you are probably wondering what you can do to get the tingly meaningful feeling inside. Well, this is a four-stage process.

First, you want to feel indignant all the time. Back in the old days morality was about loving and serving others. But now it's about displaying indignation about things that other people are doing wrong.

When you are indignant, or woke, you are showing that you have a superior moral awareness. You don't have to actually do anything. Your indignation is itself a sign of your own goodnes.

Second, you want to make yourself heard. You want to put up a lawn sign that says, "Hate is not welcome here" or wear a T-shirt that says, "Stop the Violence." By putting up a lawn sign that lots of people in your neighborhood already have, or wearing that T-shirt that all of your friends already wear, you are taking a stand and displaying who you are. You're showing the people who are trying to silence you that you are not going to stay silent!

The third thing you want to do is tell your story. It wasn't easy to come up with feelings as good as your feelings. You want to inspire others by sharing about yourself. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is talk about yourself a lot. Sometimes you have to keep talking about yourself even though other people, selfishly, keep interrupting and trying to talk about themselves.

The fourth thing you need to do is condemn bad people. If somebody says something new or bad, you need to get on your phone right away. You need to tap the parts of the screen that will make it obvious that you are the sort of person who will not stand for bad people saying bad things. You need to protect people from hearing ideas they may not already have!

I hope this column helps you lead a more meaningful life. But remember: You're already perfect just the way you are!

The New York Times

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