I'm currently reading a provocative book by Edwin Friedman entitled A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.
There's a lot that I might say to comment on it (and who knows, maybe I will), but today I just want to talk about a fascinating theory that I read last night.
Friedman maintains that all "malignant life processes"—from viruses to cancer cells (to pest species transplanted from their native ecosystem, I might add—starlings, I'm talking about you) to bad-behaving humans (addicts, chronic complainers/troublemakers, etc.) to terrorists to crime syndicates to dysfunctional institutions to totalitarian nations—have two characteristics in common, regardless of size or scale:
(1) They are un-self-regulated. They have no specialized, individual contribution to the system of which they are a part. They are impulsive and seem driven entirely by reactions to those around them—both perceived opportunities and perceived threats. They don't know when to quit. They don't naturally mature/evolve. They have no purpose other than their own boundless, gluttonous existence.
(2) They are invasive. Lacking any independent sense of self, they make up for it by taking over and living through everything around them (whether cells, family members, or neighboring nations). Other entities' "stuff" becomes their own, and they act unthinkingly as if entitled to it. In so doing they control those around them (often unwittingly) and end up destroying the very system that gave them life in the first place. This is not so much because they are so driven to conquer as it is their neighbors are not driven to maintain their own boundaries (whether a cell wall or a line on a map).
So far, I can't think of any biblical text or concept that perfectly mirrors what Friedman maintains. But I can think of some biblical examples of the principles in action.
Take hypocrisy, for example. Jesus tells us not to try to take the speck out of the other's eye (invade) but to take the log out of our own (self-regulate). And likewise Paul paradoxically points out that in order to effectively bear our brother's burden, we have to "watch ourselves" and focus on carrying our own.
I also recall problems in early churches that reflect the principle. Paul orders mooching believers in Thessalonica to get a job and stop taking advantage of and meddling in other people's lives. Likewise he tells young widows in Ephesus to get married and raise their own family so they don't invest themselves in gossipping and messing with other people's families. (He even calls such behavior Satanic.)
I even think about the tragedy of the human race itself with respect to the earth. God created Adam to cultivate and guard his "garden" (which I think may represent all of God's glorious creation). But when Adam sinned, the earth reacted viciously toward us, and we reacted right back. Now, though we have glimmers of our primeval caretaking, guarding, and even beautifying (see: art, broadly defined) role, our default setting is failing to regulate ourselves and a bent toward invading the natural world for all we can take from it for no other purpose than our own unbounded existence.
Lesson? Selfishness is evil, but ironically the most selfish people are the ones who are most focused on those around them—how they've been "hurt" by them, what they can get from them, and even how they can help them. I know people who are obsessed with "helping" others not primarily as a free response to a call from their Maker but rather in order to fill up what is lacking in themselves, and they generally do at least as much harm as good to the people they are trying to "help." The irony appears to be that a person's first step to loving her neighbor is to ignore the demands of the world around her and focus like a laser on how she stands before a righteous God and on what he made her and saved her to be. (Obviously, that goes for guys too.)