Selfish love – this is what happens when a person loves someone or something for the sake of his own happiness. That ‘loved’ object makes the person in love happy or euphoric. It’s the most common type of love which everyone indulges in on a daily basis. These are the things we find most difficult to part with, they become our addictions, and we get dependent on them. Our brains refuse to let them go, and our bodies respond in withdrawal like symptoms when that ’love’ ends. It is, to put it simply, the love for one’s own self and that is the most basic, the strongest, the most binding of all. Although I have used the word selfish to define this kind, it is not meant in a negative connotation.
The other type is what I would like to term as the ‘Selfless Love’ – the love where the object may not directly or immediately provide any form of pleasure. Not everyone is capable of indulging in this kind. It is in some way a direct opposite of the logical form of love, the selfish love. It is self deprecating, in most cases and rarely provides immediate pleasure or the desire result. It is love in its purest form.
All our lives we are mostly mesmerized by the pleasures this world brings to us, the things that make us happy, the people we enjoy with, the aspirations we have and the goals in life we wish to achieve. To indulge in the ‘selfish love’ is very common and follows the normal course of life and there is nothing wrong with it – only as long as it is coupled with ‘selfless love’ too. It is deadly in isolation or in an extremely high quantity than that of the selfless love.
Selfish love is the one every human is born with, where as the selfless love is an acquired trait and many live without ever realizing its existence. Selfless love is what spirituality is all about, the concept of self sacrifice to attain the greater good or for the sake of attaining peace in the hereafter. While selfish love is the cause of all human misery, selfless love is the only way out of it.
A person who doesn’t know selfless love is the one who only worships one’s own self and cannot benefit anyone but himself throughout his life.
As parents it is important for us to differentiate between the two and understand how to teach our children to strike this balance.
Ironically, selfless love doesn’t really appear selfless when executed. It requires patience, self sacrifice and above all a mature long term vision. Mostly selfless love ends up in negative feelings for the one exhibiting it and although the intention behind it is positive, it almost always appears negative. The most common example is that of a mother who tries to discipline her child so that his life ahead is easier more positive, both for himself and for the ones around. In my opinion there are only two distinct cases in which selfless love comes into play – parenthood and the relationship with the creator. As Muslims, our religion expects us to strike a balance between these 2 kinds – the more you move towards selflessness, the more pious and compassionate you become. Same goes for parenthood, our job as parents is not to be admired or loved by our kids in exchange of making life easy for them, it’s sadly quite opposite. During my teens, getting up at sehri to fast was one of the most difficult things in Ramzan. I remember my father trying to wake us up constantly for 30 minutes or so before we would drag our sleepy bodies to the dining table. I remember being so mad at him and the antics he applied which included switching the fan and air conditioner off in summers and vice versa in winters, giving us no choice but to climb out of the beds. Same goes for the morning namaz. But I know today that it has been all in good faith. No parent wants to see their children in discomfort, but since they DO know better they have to take the hard path for the future betterment of their offspring. Same goes with our religion or mostly with every religion – the test is that of elevating above the comfort zone of short term pleasure into the betterment of soul which has much long lasting and beneficial impact.
Today I see many parents, compulsively trying to ease things up for their children – all in good faith but that’s what harms a child’s development and results in unthankful, uncouth, selfish and above all non empathetic lot. They take their parents for granted to begin with and ultimately everything in life. They suffer all through their lives as they expect to be treated royally and wants things to come easy to them, which is one thing life does not give. One has to earn a living – literally. Children need to be taught discipline, self sacrifice, concept of charity, concept of parting from what beings them temporary pleasure in order to make sense of this world and be in peace with themselves later on in their lives.
Children who have life chalked out too easy for them are miserable from within as they grow older, cause they can’t seem to understand anyone else’s misery, other’s point of view but their own. They victimize themselves as not being treated fairly, but really are they the ones to blame?
The trick is to instill in your children ability to love in a way that by loving selflessly they feel the pleasure of selfish love. The day they start getting pleasure out of doing things for others without expecting any rewards in return, is the day they will find true peace and happiness.
A parent who has succeeded in making his child able to understand the meaning of true love, the selfless love will benefit from the child who respects, appreciates and understands the parent's sacrifice.
In the truest sense, however I feel only a mother's love towards the child is truly selfless as Rumi so beautiful says in the lines below…...
A lover asked his beloved, Do you love yourself more than you love me? Beloved replied, I have died to myself and I live for you. I've disappeared from myself and my attributes, I am present only for you. I've forgotten all my learnings, but from knowing you I've become a scholar. I've lost all my strength, but from your power I am able. I love myself...I love you. I love you...I love myself.