Lust as Selfish Desire

Prompted by several friends who had read and recommended it, I finally read David Brooks’ The Road to Character.  There is much in it to reflect on.

There is also a I could write about the book, but here let me just share something Brooks discussed in his chapter on Augustine: lust.  We all know that Augustine had something of a sordid youth before turning to God and so doubtless your first thought on reading “lust” was the young Augustine’s sexual behavior.

Brooks makes the important observation that, although we tend to use the word “lust” to refer to sexual desire, a “broader, better meaning is selfish desire.”  Here is description of lust in action:

If you organize your life around your own wants, other people become objects for the satisfaction of your own desires.  Everything is coldly instrumental.  Just as a prostitute is rendered into an object for the satisfaction of orgasm, so a professional colleague is rendered into an object for the purpose of career networking, a stranger is rendered into an object for the sake of making a sale, a spouse is turned into an object for the purpose of providing you with love….

We use the word “lust” to refer to sexual desire, but a broader, better meaning is selfish desire.  A true lover delights to serve his beloved.  But lust is all incoming.  The person in lust has a void he needs filled by others.  Because he is unwilling to actually serve others and build a full reciprocal relationship, he never fills the emotional emptiness inside.  Lust beings with a void and ends with a void.

Love and lust are very different things.  I think understanding lust in this broader sense highlights that difference.  And it helps us to be alert to when our expressions of love, in fact, shade into lust.

Update: Shortly after hitting “publish” on this post, I checked a couple of blogs written by friends. It turns out that my friend Richard’s post today also references Brooks’ The Road to Character. You can find Richard’s post, which talks about Brooks’ chapter on Dorothy Day here.