In his book “The Winner Within,” Riley warns of the dangers of “The Disease of Me.” He writes how his former team, the Lakers, allowed their egos to cause one of the quickest falls in the history of the NBA.
Of course not all self interest is bad. We must provide for ourselves and our families. But we live in a society where we must work with others in order to produce goods and services and to live in harmony with fellow citizens.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this is the failure to realize the difference between significance and fame. In much of today's media offering, the desire to be famous is fed by irrational, farcical behavior that will hopefully garner attention, no matter how misguided. The motto of so many is "Look at me!" and fifteen minutes of fame
Today, fame is found in the likes of movie stars and other celebrities; to this end, Paris Hilton comes to mind. She is perhaps the archetype of what ails our society with respect to what is significant and what is not. She is the beautiful, spoiled daughter of a wealthy family who draws media attention like a dead horse draws maggots. Her escapades are shameful, bordering on criminal at times. Lindsay Lohan is another. Both come from privileged backgrounds where self discipline was never taught. They troubles are of their own making: DUI arrests, promiscuous sex, drugs, violating their terms of probation.
Compare them with significant figures in history, giants among men if you will. The Founding Fathers for one. Men who truly sacrificed their fortunes, their families, even their lives for an ideal that birthed the greatest nation of modern times. But these men were guided by a belief that was forged under great duress. The belief that a nation could rule itself guided by the dictates of a Sovereign God. That an Almighty Creator endued Men with inalienable rights and that government should be formed in order to protect and maintain these rights rather than grant these rights themselves.
As so much of our culture was based on a firm belief in Christianity, I think of the Apostle Paul and his Letters to Timothy - in particular his second letter, for this was the last letter he wrote before his execution by Nero, circa 67 AD. Paul did not write this letter from a position of privilege and comfort; according to Christian tradition he wrote 2nd Timothy from the Mamertine Prison in Rome.
The Mamertine was converted to a church in the 17th century, but as early as 700 BC it was a prison used to house condemned criminals until their execution.
The Mamertime Prison is mentioned by several ancient writers, including Livy, who dated its construction to the 7th century BC under King Ancus:"It was found that in so great a multitude the distinction between right and wrong had become obscured, and crimes were being secretly committed. Accordingly to overawe men's growing lawlessness, a prison was built in the midst of the city, above the Forum." (Livy 1.33.8)The lower room of the remaining part is known as the Tullianum after its builder Servius Tullius (6th century BC). This part served as a place not of punishment but of detention and execution for condemned criminals. The ancient historian Sallust said it was 12 feet below the ground and "neglect, darkness and stench make it hideous and fearsome to behold."
Prisoners were lowered into what were former cisterns - cold and dank - and there were no considerations for sanitation. Everything had to be handed down or hauled up by rope. It was from here that Paul wrote his last pastoral letter that has resounded through two millennia for priests, ministers, pastors and chaplains. He wrote it to encourage Timothy to persevere through hard times. Significant? Amen. Famous? Who cares. We'll meet him some day.