Self-sacrifice enables us to sacrifice other people without blushing.

George Bernard Shaw

I am perplexed by the word sacrifice.  Not in terms of linguistics, but what it has come to mean to us.  It is all tangled up with nobility, martyrdom and loss.  In exploring its roots, nowhere can I find a reference to it conferring qualities of either good or bad on the sacrificer, the sacrificed or the beneficiary.  

It can be traced back to the Latin sacer or holy, which is from the Proto-Indo-European sak to sanctify or to make a treaty.

When we offer up a sacrifice it is usually with the belief that there is a recipient to whom or which we owe fealty; be it a deity, a personal relationship or our conscience.  Sacrifice is never a solo act, rather it functions to establish or prolong a connection between the giver and the receiver.

In tales that are built around archetypes, sacrifices are made to consecrate things and ensure divine indulgence; and it is always the bravest and most spotless who must be sacrificed.  This makes sense in terms of how we relate to and glorify the concept of sacrifice because it confirms for us that there must be acute loss in order to be successful in serving the greater good.  The greater good is voracious after all.

It also follows that if the sacrifice of the righteous is our archetypal reference point, performing what we perceive to be a sacrifice can be our own attempt to shrive ourselves.  

That is a slippery slope if ever there was one.

Many of us like to think that when we sacrifice our personal joy or pleasure it is to prevent causing others pain when it is really our own pain that we are avoiding.  Sacrifice can lure us into feeling absolved of guilt and beyond the judgment of others.

Often we claim sacrifice while in the act of bowing to outside opinion, congratulating ourselves for our selflessness. However, to give up something we value in favor of what others think we ought to value is not a selfless act; it is infidelity to truth and to our relationship to ourselves.

And our relationship to ourselves is at the heart of the matter.  Without that being functional, there can be no relationship to others.  

In our efforts to enter into a sacrament (to fulfill our promise) with ourselves, we create many goals and weave many dreams.  But how can we say we want something without being willing to give what it takes to get it?

If we want peace, how can we achieve it without freeing ourselves from conflict? If we want love, how can we receive it without releasing the obstacles we have to giving it?
If we want truth, where will we find it if we cannot transcend the fear of seeing it?
If we want to become self-realized, how can we do so without first offering up what we thought was the self in favor of our divinity?

Is this sacrifice or healthy decision making?

If we choose to do something, even when we have to let something we value go, can we call it a sacrifice if no one forced us to do it?

If we love what we choose, if we give something up joyfully and willingly, is it a sacrifice?

Sacrifices are choices.  Choices exist on a continuum.  No choice is wrong; each leads to its own lessons and challenges. 

We can view the tough choices as sacrifices or controlled losses, but no decision made in free will, out of love and for the highest good ever adds up to any real loss.

It adds up to love and after all…

Love is all that matters!

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch
Iphigenia In Tauris
2014 Hong Kong Arts Festival

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