Augustine observes that humans are constituted in large part by their sociality. As he puts it in the City of God, “For there is nothing so social by nature as this race, no matter how discordant it has become through its fault.”
I have written that a corollary of the natural law is a vision of society as one based on mutual aid. This includes economic exchange as well as the economy of gifts and the corresponding gratitude, as I have highlighted this week.
But this orientation towards others can take a negative turn. As I noted yesterday, Augustine describes a corrupted kind of “spiteful benevolence.”
C.S. Lewis explores this as well in his description of the person who must always be giving to the point of fostering dependency, foisting oneself upon others, and even creating the need for intervention if necessary. This “unselfish” giving of oneself to others can turn into the most depraved kind of selfishness.
As Wormwood relates a description of such a person in The Screwtape Letters, “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others–you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.”
This kind of need to be needed is of course a corruption of love. By contrast, the true expression of love is exemplified in no more glorious a fashion than the truly other-directed self-giving of a mother.
This is something to remember and celebrate this Mother’s Day.