People typically read about, hear about, see or witness an act of so called “sacrifice” and marvel or wonder about the great person who would give so much for relatively little in return and praise their “sacrifice” and “selfless” act as something we should all attempt to emulate. This is hog wash! Simply put, there is no such thing as a sacrifice. At the heart of all sacrifices is a highly selfish motive. This is not to say that there are no heroes, there are. But, there aren’t as many heroes as people talk about. For example, there are far fewer heroes in the athletic world than people talk about. Regardless, the act of sacrifice doesn’t exist; however, anyone who actually performs an act of sacrifice is an idiot and is no hero.
So, let’s start with the definition of sacrifice. By definition, the act of sacrifice is the act of giving something of high importance or value for something that is of less importance or value. By the very definition of sacrifice, we can conclude that sacrifice is inherently dumb. Yet, we view sacrifice as something that we should all endeavor to emulate and hail our real heroes’ sacrifices as great achievements. How is it that this is possible? How is it that a sacrifice is inherently dumb, but we view our heroes’ acts of “sacrifice” as being awe-inspiring, and we revere our true heroes? The key to understanding this quandary is a person’s value system.
Let’s take a very obvious example of a heroic act by private first class Ross A. McGinnis, a Medal of Honor (MoH) recipient during the Iraq war. On December 4, 2006 in Adhamiyah, northeast of Baghdad, private McGinnis threw himself on a fragmentation grenade that was thrown into his vehicle by insurgents, which resulted in his death. However, this act of “sacrifice” saved all four of his fellow soldiers in the vehicle. Just reading the MoH citation brought tears to my eyes, and I marveled at private McGinnis split second decision to do what he did; I am still in awe of this great American and a great human being. So, was this a sacrifice by private McGinnis? No, it wasn’t. It was a value choice. Because he was manning the M2 machine gun mounted on the turret of his vehicle, after yelling “grenade!” he could have easily escaped the blast by jumping out of the turret to relative safety. No one would have blamed him for doing so and would not have regarded his act as anything but rational. Despite this option, he made the decision to protect his comrades instead, which resulted in his loss of life. As an aside, I can’t fathom the fact that many of us know who the star players are for our local professional sports team, but very few of us can name MoH recipients. This is truly sad.
Regardless, private McGinnis’ act is not a sacrifice. It is a trade: Four lives for one. This does not in any way shape or form diminish the heroism that private McGinnis displayed nor does it make his act anything less than awe inspiring, but it was not a sacrifice, because he traded more for less. Further, based on testimony of living MoH recipients, I would guess that if private McGinnis had survived the blast, he would assert that he is not a hero, and that his act of incredible valor was nothing more than what any other soldier in his position would have done. Of course, this is not quite true, but it illustrates the supreme value system that private McGinnis held. His view was likely that giving his life to save those of his comrades’ was the right thing to do. Therefore, private McGinnis isn’t a hero because he jumped on the live grenade, he is a hero because he had the value system that he did, and more importantly, he acted in a manner that was consistent with his value system, i.e., he had impeccable integrity, and had absolute honor.
From this example, we can draw some vital conclusions: A true sacrifice is dumb because you are giving up more for less, more important for less important, more value for less value. Heroes don’t make sacrifices, they trade that which is more important in their value system for something that which is less important. Moreover, there are very few true heroes and there are very few true acts of heroism, least of all in the athletic world.
Lastly, I will note that Mother Teresa is no hero and did not make any sacrifices what so ever. What she did was nothing more than a trade. She traded for something that had infinitely more value to her for something that had infinitely less value to her: In her mind, she was trading her everlasting position in heaven for her relatively short, but less luxurious publicly-visible life on earth.
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