We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself … Romans 15:1-3
Three times in three verses we are exhorted not to please ourselves. Yet pleasing ourselves is ingrained. We assume what pleases us, pleases others. We think people like what we like. We recommend books, movies, recipes, music all based on the belief that others will like what we like. Consequently, we make choices and assume others will like our choices. We don’t even notice that we’re only pleasing ourselves.
We also make assumptions about the best way to help other people and then we give them the help we think they want, which may not be the help they actually need. I read about the approach of an aid agency. When they move into a new community to give assistance they always ask the people what their biggest need is. They find it’s different things for different cultures. For some the priority is running water, for some it’s equipment, and for some, the priority is their children’s education. If the aid agency were to help by doing what they thought best, without asking, they would be pleasing themselves. We don’t do our neighbour good if we impose our desires on them.
The secret to growing in this area is learning to ask questions. Christ is our example. Once he asked a blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). Wasn’t that an unnecessary question? Jesus didn’t think so. In order to not please ourselves, we make a habit of asking questions and then listening for the answers.