On Sunday I ended up at a bowling birthday party, the kind where thirty four-year-olds produce a slow-motion physics video of a bowling ball in realtime. After the bowling they had pizza and cake, and the attending parents were offered the same. It was lunch time and I was famished, so I took a slice.
While everyone was standing around after pizza and before cake, they still had a pie and a few slices left. Sveryone had eaten at least one slice and some had taken a second, and because I was hungry, I took another. At the end, they ran out of pizza. I’m not aware of anyone who didn’t get enough, but there were no leftovers.
There’s your backdrop: no one went hungry; everyone enjoyed it. Clearly there was nothing wrong with any given guest taking a second slice of pizza.
But the next day, it came to me — it would have been better not to take the second slice, and not for the reason you’re thinking. I know we talk about good food as “sinful” and that dieters talk about declining food as virtue, and there was nothing wrong with having a second slice of pizza when hungry. It’s not gluttony and it’s not depriving someone else of nourishment.
But for some reason, I ended up dwelling on the concept of sacrifice: precisely because it was good pizza. If I hadn’t taken the second slice, I wouldn’t have starved, but I’d have made way for someone else to enjoy it. And that turns the good of enjoying a piece of pizza into something more like the virtue of putting others first.
I hadn’t framed it that way. I’d framed it as the practical “Does anyone else need pizza?” and “Would there be anything wrong with taking this?” but never asked, “Where’s the greatest good?” It’s flipping the question over. Not, “Will someone suffer if I do this?” but “Will someone increase their joy if I don’t?”
That’s not to say my enjoyment counts for nothing, but for a minute there I made a connection I hadn’t before. I knit for the joy of creating and then give it away so someone else can enjoy the product. And similarly with the food, you can have two good effects from the same slice of pizza: the good of enjoyment as well as the good of sacrificing something enjoyable so someone else can have it.