Today I learned an old friend, 61, architect of all 3 of the homes we’ve owned over 30 years, my husband’s sometimes fishing buddy, enthusiastic gardener of rare hibiscus, fundamentalist Christian who homeschooled his children to protect them from the world, and seemingly devoted husband was charged with soliciting an underaged prostitute. The FBI says he will be charged with additional offenses. His wife and children must be devastated.
Contemplating his self-interest, oblivious to or uncaring of its effects on both a young girl and a family he loves, I thought, oddly enough, of people in my mom’s retirement community. I often think about self-interest when I am with them. All have reason to complain. Most don’t. But a few otherwise mentally healthy people are so self-absorbed, so mean, insensitive and demanding they suck the spirit from those who would befriend and help them.
Like my friend, most of them were and are actively religious and, if 30 years ago, he or they were shown a flash forward of what they would do to others in the future, most would have been aghast. So, when I consider what drives people to choose self-absorption which leaves healthy self-interest in the lurch and becomes destructive to our fellows, the answer must be more specific than “go to church, read your scriptures, pray.” My mother’s friends tell me they think religion plays a role in maintaining a generous character, especially as they consider hope for an eternity and accountability before God. Beyond that, they see little pattern to predict who will grow less caring of others. Do we have a tendency to become more self-interested as we age? Or as we age, do we dispense with the masks and disclose our true character, for good or ill? What study, what actions, what attitudes gird us against selfishness? How much more nuanced are the answers than a consideration of eternal reward and punishment? Do we start to feel entitled to do whatever we want because we do or do not realize our dreams or don’t view life as fair enough? Tonight, as an old friend faces 20 years on 1 count, with more counts to follow and all that means to his family, this is on my mind.