Disinterestedness is one of the least known virtues. I have to admit, until I had read Father Romano Guardini’s book, Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God, I had never heard of it. So let’s start with a definition. Look in any dictionary and you will find definitions such as an absence of interest; objectivity; unbiased. So how does that make disinterestedness a virtue? Father Romano Guardini shows how:
The more we seek to gain our own ends, the more the other person closes up and is put on the defensive. But the more clearly he perceives that we do not wish to drive him, but simply be with him and live with him – that we do not want to gain something from him, but merely to serve the matter at hand – then the more quickly he discards his defenses and opens himself to the influence of our personality. The power of personality becomes stronger in proportion to the absence of interests (Guardini p. 77).
How do we translate this passage into everyday life? Whenever you do an act without an ulterior motive, you are being disinterested, and practicing the virtue of disinterestedness. The question is, how often does anyone act without an ulterior motive? Rarely! I believe that is why the virtue of disinterestedness is unknown. Yet, Father Guardini’s book was written in 1967. Therefore, it is not some ancient, irrelevant virtue. He witnessed it as recently as 48 years ago, and thought it important enough to include in his book on numerous virtues. Although important to him, he could foresee its demise when he wrote:
Actions are increasingly based upon utilitarian motives and considerations of success apart from the real matter at hand. And yet disinterestedness is the only disposition which produces genuine work, the pure act, because it frees man for creativity. It alone gives rise to what is great and liberating, and only the man who works in this way gains interior riches (Guardini p. 78).
We have lost much disinterestedness in the past 50 years with increased partisanship in our houses of government and increased divisiveness in religious beliefs and actions. We began thinking less of others and more about ourselves as secularism and relativism became more widespread and deemed acceptable. Our self-interests now rule our actions. The era of an absence of interest (objectivity) and maintaining an unbiased viewpoint have gone by the wayside.
It is time to resurrect the virtue of disinterestedness. How do we do that in today’s modern world? We’ll tackle that question in our next reflection. Don’t miss it!
Guardini, Romano. Learning the Virtues That Lead You to God. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press. Print. 1967.