For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:45
A theme that often comes up against a great deal of criticism on social media is the idea of self-sacrifice, especially in the context of modern women. The alternative image of the free, independent and individualistic woman who enjoys full autonomy and control of her life and relationships is what is recommended to the present generation. Videos on this theme are usually in the form of stories or self-confessions about how women had often given up careers to look after their children, or had opted out of family holidays to keep company with a sick parent. While the stories are different, the tone of regret for having wasted one’s life on others, runs commonly through all of them. The speaker concludes with a highly appealing catchphrase -Look after yourself at any cost.
In describing a life that was spent in sacrificing one’s own pleasures, comforts and interests for others, the speaker seeks to evoke a range of emotions in her audience, from indignance towards the social milieu that has molded women to take on this role, to a determination to wipe out every instinct of self-sacrifice that may unwittingly linger in their minds. The final verdict spells out a life of freedom for the woman where she, and she alone reigns supreme.
The impact of these videos is different for different generations. For those who have happily and easily given up their small and big desires for their family, and are contentedly reaping the rewards of their goodness, these talk shows sow seeds of regret. Several questions surface in their minds— have they been exploited? Have they missed out on opportunities that could have earned them fame and fortune? Was it all worth it?
The target audience is, however, the younger generation who are on the threshold of taking up independent careers. They view this philosophy as Bible truth. Having grown up on a diet of freedom and ambition, the concept of self-sacrifice has no place in their lives. The ideas that these videos present are in sync with their thoughts and feelings. The catchphrase resonates within them and they are renewed with a rising determination to take good care of themselves alone!
The psychological impact of these highly attractive notions on young minds is insidious and far-reaching. It leads people on a selfish and egotistic path where only the self matters. Young women hesitate to take on the commitment of marriage and remain spinsters for as long as possible, because they fear the sacrifices it may call for. When it comes to motherhood, the challenge is even greater. A career break, the discomfort of sleepless nights spent in baby care, and the responsibilities of parenting seem nightmarish to the slick, smart professional, one who has very focused career ambitions that do not accommodate the disruptions of family and motherhood.
One attitude leads to another, and the next step would be to take ruthless positions on the issue of abortion. Those whose religion is to look after themselves would naturally fight for their right to destroy the life in their womb. We are witness to large global movements that stand for Pro-choice, as against Pro-life. Finally, what emerges from these influential speeches on social media in the name of freedom and emancipation, is monstrous and unholy in character.
Even at the cost of being shouted down by feminists, I have to say that self sacrifice is not an ugly word, as it is now made out to be. If we look back at the sacrifices we make for others willingly, there is such a great sense of satisfaction when we see how these special people have profited from it. Both men and women have selflessly worked hard and sacrificed their smallest comforts in order to see that their children achieve their dreams. They have willingly given up career hikes to come back and look after old and sick parents. Self-sacrifice is the capacity to look beyond oneself and give much greater value to another’s needs. And yet, this noble quality is being presented as exploitative, and those who practice it are pictured as unwilling martyrs. Rather than raising a war-cry against self-sacrifice, we must be able to recommend it to others. If women are seen as more self-sacrificing, it is time for men to increasingly share this divine character trait and make it a way of life.
Freedom is a very attractive concept, and when selfish and individualistic ideas come wrapped in its bright and heady colors, they become hard to resist. Freedom promises us total autonomy in decision making, and when it is reinforced with a catchphrase like-Look after yourself- it can turn many away from the direction of truth. In his letter to the Romans, St Paul warns those who “suppress the truth” and exchange the truth of God for a lie. The warning holds good especially today, as people pledge greater allegiance to the created, rather than to their Creator.
The New Year gives us a fresh opportunity to tarry a moment to reflect on which direction the tide is taking us. If we listen carefully, we will hear the still small voices that are often drowned in the clamour for freedom and lifestyle—voices of the unborn who are denied the right to live, voices of little children who crave parental attention, voices of the old and the sick. Self -sacrifice is a spiritual discipline we could think of as a New Year resolution for the next year. The less we demand for ourselves, the more we will be able to give others.