Wednesday, 29 September 2010

On Being Self-Centred

This post isn't going to take the direction you might think - and I know what you think because like all men, I can read minds (we have to, you know).

I had a pastoral encounter yesterday where a statement was made that all priests will have heard aplenty from good people who themselves are having a bad time of it:
"Anyway, I am being selfish; this is nothing compared to what some people have to deal with..."

I won't cite yesterday's example as the person concerned may well read this, but another recent example was as I sat beside a man as he lay dying. He had just been informed that his aggressive form cancer was in-operable, and all this a mere two weeks after he lost his life's love and wife of 50-odd years. He was afraid of what lay ahead of him, how the 'end' would be, whether in fact all this religious stuff could be trusted when the chips were down, how his heart broke anew every day for his best girl ... and so on. Then he paused and said that which I mentioned above - "...but anyway, I am just being selfish. There are people who have far more to deal with than I do".

I laughed gently and told him that a little self-centred thought was perfectly acceptable and normal, and that what he was facing and had faced was significant. I pointed out that we all have cross to bear, and for each of us it is heavy. This was his cross, and that it was ok to attend to it and not worry about the crosses that others bear, not that day anyway.

I think that it is a Christian disposition to fear and abhor being self-centred. Even in the gravely acute circumstances that my friend found himself in, he thought himself selfish to worry about it. It is a tendency that, when genuine (and not stated to affect a collusory response) is a sad thing and as a priest, I will make sure that people attend to their own crosses. I believe that God would support me in this. It is ok to bewail one's sad circumstances, to talk about it - and in fact, I think to avoid that is probably more damaging. After all, priests themselves are counselled to be self-centred as a professional 'best practice' when seeking spiritual-direction.

My friend died this weekend. May he rest in the peace of Christ.


  1. An interesting collection of thoughts, though there is perhaps some confusion between being self-centred and selfish. The former, in my view, ia a permanent condition and is the state of being interested only in ones self at all times and to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. Selfishness, on the other hand I believe to be a healthy interest in one's own welfare under a particular set of circumstances.

    I do agree that we all need to be selfish at times as a means of self preservation but too much and too prolonged breast-beating leads to a degree of self-indulgence which not only distances us from those who would normally be eager to empathise, counsel and offer help, but eventually alienates those whose friendship we most value.

  2. I think I agree. I think i am argiung that a self-centredness is appropriate at times, but only in a limited measure. Like anything, such behaviours become onerous to the rest of us if they perpetuate.

    I regard 'selfish' to be a more perjorative term so chose the other instead. The person I am listening to thinks they are being selfish, whereas I regard a self-centering to be a good thing at times!

    Does that make any sense at all?

  3. Yes, sorry! i appear to be mis-reading you (forgive my pedantic tendancies)
    Either way, a good blog.

  4. I agree with you Fr David, in that it is sometimes right to encourage people to think about themselves and their own situation. Surely an important part of healing is to accept, forgive and love ourselves the way God does. When people are facing death, they need to hear these things over and over again. Every Blessing



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