For the past few months I’ve been considering the excellence of the middle way in most circumstances. While in some situations it is appropriate to take a firm, extreme stance, most of the time the middle way is a much more manageable response that provides happiness for everyone involved.
I will use selfishness as an illustrative example. Being a purely selfish creature is not good. It takes away from the people around you and strips you of the opportunity of happiness that giving provides. Nobody likes a selfish person. I knew an individual once whose agenda in whether or not he took the time to get to know you was based almost entirely on whether or not you could help him. He had a grand life goal and every choice he made was driven by this goal. Sometimes this would extend to whether or not he would speak to you when he saw you, and on occasion to whether or not he would grace you with a greeting. He had many other fine qualities, but this was the dominant quality that I experienced. I was Unnecessary to him, and he avoided me. Selfishness is arrogant, possessive of things it wants, and dismissive of those around it.
Selflessness, while it is a quality that is often lauded in our culture, I find is also a less desirable trait. I’ve known some individuals, often mothers, who find that the needs of those around them are so overwhelming that any sort of perceived selfishness is absolutely rejected. She can’t find the time to pamper or take care of herself even a little while a child has any needs at all. He can’t stay home sick because he has too many other obligations tied up with other people. This results in what might have been a small cold developing into something worse and long term. I’ve known a couple of codependent people whose lives were falling apart around them, but they couldn’t find the time to put the pieces together because they were too busy taking care of others. Selflessness like I have described is emotionally draining, can cause stifling circumstances, and often leads to breakdowns and many tears.
The fact is that it is good to help, to give and to serve others, and the best position from which you can do these things is one where you have also been taken care of. It’s the middle way. It is easier to help a friend in an emotionally challenging position when you’re not also falling apart emotionally. If someone is taking advantage of you, it’s ok to step away from the situation and find one where you are treated equally. Selfishness and selflessness are two extremes running away from the balanced middle where we help each other equally. In order to give service or a gift, there has to be another who will accept it. Sometimes you are the giver, and sometimes you are the receiver. There has to be a balance of these two. It’s not bad to want things, and it’s not bad to give things; both are important. The middle way where there is a balance is the best position for you and others.
Selfishness is just one example of the goodness of the middle way, but I find it a powerful and compelling example.