Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Limits of Selflessness

The Limits of Selflessness

I attended a friend's wedding dinner at a leading five-star hotel in KL on Saturday night. It was fun being able to catch up with a lot of my old friends and acquaintances again. Usually on such occassions, the happiest people are not the much-harried newly-weds themselves but their relatives and friends who get to have a good time at their expense.

So we had a good time, gorging ourselves on the sumptuous food but most of the time, we were drowning ourselves in the freely flowing beer and wine. While the womenfolk exchanged notes about baby nappies and day care centers, the men would whisper among themselves in conspiratorial tones about their latest extra-marital adventures.

Most married men like to complain to me that since they got married, they have no more time for themselves. But to me that is a given; if you get married, you have to be prepared to devote at least half of your time to your other half. Over time, the typical couple will work out an optimum balance between personal and family life. This "impedance matching" can only come about if there's no selfishness on either side. It fails when one party attempts to take advantage of the other.

But of course, we are all selfish creatures. The confirmed bachelor is selfish because he is not willing to give up his freedom; the married man is selfish because he thinks he can have the cake and eat it too.

Ultimately, we will all suffer in one way or another because of our selfishness. That too is a given. Learning to love someone is merely a first step towards total selflessness. But people in love often find themselves amplifying their selfishness even further, and thus intensifying the suffering.

Only when we are married, do we get to test the limits of our selflessness. And only then do we realise how innately selfish we all really are.

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