Undue Concern over Others’ Problems

by Archpriest George Morelli Antiochian Archdiocese Ministry of Counseling.

There is a deep chasm between genuine and sincere concern for the
problems that beset others versus undue personal disturbance. One of
the major disaffirmative consequences of an undue concern for others’
problems is that we are not able to focus on fostering our own healthy
physical, psychological or spiritual functioning and wellbeing. This is
often accompanied by our own emotional distress. Furthermore, this then leads to being ineffective in giving others the help they may deservedly need and that we might want to give to them. Irish author, poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), put it this way: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”1

Sometimes there are situations in which others’ problems do affect
us. We may personalize the idea that others are not acting the way we
want, taking it as a personal insult or slight. However, as cognitive
clinical psychologist, Albert Ellis (1962)2 points out, it is our own “injustice-collecting ideas,” or what I would label as our demanding expectations that we be ‘justly treated,’ that inflatesour own feelings of annoyance. For example, if someone acts
ill-manneredly towards us, it is our own ‘self talk’ about it that triggers our untoward feelings: “What rudeness he/she has! How dare
he/she do that to me.” We insist that others follow our own set of
rules. We fail to perceive the reality that people are going to act the
way they want, not the way we want them to. A psychological alternative
is to stop focusing on our own irrational reaction to what others are
doing or not doing so that we are able to focus on calmly and caringly
help others in overcoming their impediments and challenges.

Psychological research has shown that individuals intrinsically
committed to their religious tradition can are more focused on
affirmative care for others, such as giving financial charity and doing
voluntary work.3

Many religious traditions urge us along the path of letting go of self in
caring for others. One contemporary guide to Buddhism tells us: “love,
generosity, having common values, appreciation of others, being
sensitive to their needs and not always demanding one’s own way.4This is seen in the Buddhist concept of tanha, often translated as ‘blind demandingness’ which is to ask of the universe [in this case, others] more than it is ready or able to give.

Hebrew tradition marries wisdom and helpfulness. The Jewish Talmud

has two relevant passages: “Examine the contents, not the bottle.” This
spiritual counsel would prompt us to discern the real, deserving needs
of others and thus to enhance our ability to provide effective help. The
Talmud goes on to say: “The highest form of wisdom is kindness.” This

is to say, the calm and caring help we can render.5

The Christian tradition is reflected in

the counsels of St. Paisios
of the Holy Mountain when he asks: “How are we to brighten up our love
[helping] others?” He answers: “The less I consider myself, the more I
remove myself.” By withdrawing consideration of self from our encounters with others we can put into practice the saint’s other
counsel:” Through kindness and patience [we] should try to help.6

1 [http://www.worldofquotes.com/topic/Selfishness/1/index.html]
2 Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.

3 [http://www.davidmyers.org/Brix?pageID=13]

4 [http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=166#sthash.8ZONV7Cm.dpuf]

5 Pies, R.W. (2000). The Ethics of the Sages: An Interfaith Commentary on Pirkei Avot. Northvale, NJ: Aronson Press]

6 Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, (2008-2012).
Spiritual Counsels II,IV. Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery
“Evangelist John the Theologian”