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Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Bargaining with the future.

Sacrifice is inherent in every human life – you don’t get to not make one, you have to pick your sacrifice – I mean, look at you now sacrificing your time to read this article when you could be off doing something else (and I thank you for it).

Sacrifice is a term that seems to have more negative connotations now than in times gone by. For instance, if you look at the synonyms for sacrifice in Microsoft Word it lists: expense, detriment, disadvantage, cost, loss etc. all words which imply something undesirable. We are also living in a world where, to quote a song by Queen, “I want it all and I want it now”, the idea of ‘giving up to get’ seems foreign and too difficult to people – I wrote about this in a post last year on delayed gratification in an on-demand world.

The notion to give up something now for something of greater value in the future underpins the idea of sacrifice. Sacrificing oneself or one’s own interest for someone else or something greater or an ideal or cause is generally considered to be a good and selfless thing. Sacrifice is also associated with goal setting and motivation – you’re not going to become a doctor without sacrificing years studying medicine, you didn’t sacrifice an afternoon to tidy up around the house to not get it finished, for example.

Sacrifice is both a positive and a negative, though we have to weigh up the benefits vs costs.

Humans have evolved over time from hunter-gatherers to agricultural societies and the more industrial civilisations we see now. Our ability to grow, store and trade food has done wonders for our survival – in essence a sacrificial act. On the subject of lambs and sacrifice, we have utilised religious ideas of sacrifice – some would say that sacrifice is fundamentally a religious proposition – sacrificing in the here and now for an afterlife and/or as an offering to a deity in return for good fortune. I mean, what is the image of Jesus on The Cross, but a symbol of sacrifice?

In more of a mythological sense, if you will, we give up our child-like nature and potential to become an adult. In essence it is the “Peter Pan” story. You realise your mortality and limitation and seek to turn your vast potential into a specific actuality. Like I said at the start, you have to pick your sacrifice, you don’t get to not make it. Otherwise, you’ll end up a 40+ year old man-child and who wants that? You can’t stay a boy forever.

Parental sacrifice is the realisation that there is someone to care for other than yourself and who will take priority more often than not. These sacrifices are to enable the next generation to survive and pass on their genes – present for the future theme again – at least from an evolutionary perspective, and also because parents love their children and want to see them not only survive, but thrive.

We make varying levels of sacrifices on a daily basis, they don’t always have to be with concerns to the direction of humanity or the nature of being. No, most people have enough on their plate dealing with some of following:

  • Use of recreational time e.g. Exercise, pursuing interests

  • Eating and Drinking

  • Financial – spending/saving/invest/liabilities

  • Skill or qualification/study

  • Personal or professional development (tied to above)

  • Medical/Health

How do you determine what you should and should not sacrifice?

Well, first you have to determine the value of what is being sacrificed and what is expected in return. Does this sacrifice help me to achieve my goal? Is it worth the sacrifice? Am I prepared to forgo this in the short term for a yet to be realised future gain?

So, bargaining with the future, do you do this perpetually? Or do you realise the sacrifice at some point and enjoy it? A bit of both?

A stable enough environment is required for the boon of a proper sacrifice to manifest itself – there is this element of predictability in its expectation. When things become chaotic, people are far less likely to make sacrifices for the long term.

I know not all sacrifices are rewarded and certainly not equally – that’s the story of Cain and Abel right there – but who is it that you want to be? Are you going to be the proverbial lamb to the slaughter, are you going to be like Veruca Salt (from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) demanding “I don’t care how, I want it now!” Are you going to be Peter Pan, king of the lost boys, and wanting to stay infantile forever?

Sacrifice, you get to pick your sacrifices. You don’t get to choose not to have one.

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