Oprah’s Misguided Call for Servitude

With not a dry eye in the stadium, Oprah Winfrey — an iconic American phenomenon that has traversed the fruited cultural plane — said farewell to her daytime talk show audience and offered words of advice for her viewers. One particular kernel of advice she gave struck me. She said, “Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.” (Emphasis added.) I have serious disagreement with this call for servitude that I wish to explain.

Implicit in Oprah’s comment was the notion that it is morally right for individuals to “serve the world” as opposed to serving themselves. Oprah has, in essence, encapsulated the altruistic morality perfectly — the morality that states humanity’s justification for existence is to serve others and that self-sacrifice is her highest moral duty. This is an evil moral code that views man as not a heroic being of rational capacity to accomplish the most complex and life-fulfilling of tasks, but as a sacrificial animal to be a slave to the common good.

Human life is a constant struggle. We must acquire food, shelter, and clothing for our bare necessities, but we must also live our life fulfillingly by accomplishing our goals, pursing our hobbies, and live healthy. Such objectives cannot be accomplished if our moral pursuits implore us to view the happiness of another person as good, but not our own happiness. Altruism is, at its root, the morality of suicide.

There is a common confusion that arises from this critique of altruism: should we not help others? Should we live a life of isolation, ignoring the needs of others? Altruism is not just the helping of others; it is the sacrificing of the self to others. Altruism is commonly confused with kindness, generosity, or benevolence, but those characteristics do not imply sacrifice. Altruism does.

If one is to believe in individual rights at all, one must believe in the sovereignty of the individual over their own actions. If humans were not sovereign people, if they were mindless automatons of random action, they would not be bearers of rights at all. Since humans are rational animals, and are indeed sovereign, it should then be to the discretion of the individual — with respect for that individual’s constant struggle for life — when kindness, generosity, or benevolence should be employed.

Oprah is not asking her viewers to help others as they see fit, she is imploring them to serve, which by definition involves self-sacrifice. So I have a better piece of advice for people, one that respects you as a person much more than Oprah does:

Your life is yours to live. It is your ultimate value, your everlasting project. It is full of trials and defeats, elation and success, but it is yours to live. So live it, and don’t just live it, live it flourishingly. Live life to the fullest your imagination and ability can take you. Pursue selfish interests like finding and loving a fulfilling partner; like surrounding yourself with family that make you feel loved and appreciated; like excelling in a career that makes you proud of yourself. You are the ends and the means.

Do not listen to Oprah’s misguided pleas for servitude and slavery. You are not obligated to serve me or anyone else. Your only moral pursuit, your only justification for existence is to live and enhance your life. And if kindness and generosity enhances your life, as it no doubt does Oprah’s, so be it. It’s your choice, not anyone else’s.

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2 thoughts on “Oprah’s Misguided Call for Servitude

  1. Viewer says:

    “…use your life to serve the world.”

    1 Peter 4:10-11

    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

    Mark 9:35

    And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

    Philippians 2:1-11

    So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, …

    25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

    In response to your blog…

    Matthew 6:25-34

    28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

    • Tetracide says:

      You will find that I do not see scripture as much of a sustainable defense of servitude.

      Individuals are sovereign. They have rights to their own life, liberty, and happiness. Because they have such rights, they must be able to exercise them, in other words, they must be free.

      An individual cannot be free if he subscribes to Oprah’s servitude or the morality of altruism. If he lives his life only serving others, and not himself and his needs, then he lives a slow suicide.

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