“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” ~Herman Melville
I grew up with a faith that encouraged personal sacrifice for others. Putting myself before others or desiring what they lacked was sinful. So there I was, during my teenage years, trying to be a saint, completely unselfish when thinking or interacting with others.
I must admit that I was always in the equation.
If I gave advice to others, I did it for them but also for the good feeling of improving their lives. If I helped someone else solve their math problems, I did it for that person, but also because I enjoyed the new perspectives gained through teaching, and so on.
I realized that whenever I was about to help others, I anticipated the benefit I was about to receive, whether it was a good feeling, some sort of recognition, more consideration, or leadership experience. And I wanted that repressed benefit.
But at that time, being centered on me, even slightly, was not good. That was sinful.
So I kept trying to remove my desire to receive before I was about to give. I felt guilty, hiding my self-interests.
I wanted to care for others, but I was hardly innocently others-centered.
Something was missing.
I knew deeply in my heart that things should not be that way, that desiring gains for myself was a good thing. I felt this was a legitimate need.
Helping myself and helping others appeared to not be mutually exclusive.
The Dangers of Being Solely Others-Centered
The mother who stays up late at night is not purely baby-centered; she has love and affection needs she is fulfilling for herself.
This post can’t be purely centered on you because if you don’t give me feedback (positive or negative), I won’t be able to improve my weak points or bring more of what you liked it. If I get these gains for me, you get more of my writing. The improvement of the teacher improves the student, and vice versa.
Many parents killed their children and themselves when they didn’t secure their own oxygen mask first in flight emergencies. That’s why the aviation authorities recommend, “If you travel with someone who needs assistance, secure your own mask first, before assisting the other.”
An act of self-interest is actually the condition of being able to care for others.
You can’t help others from a weak condition. Your “weakest you” weakens others. Your “strongest you” strengthen others.
We can’t sacrifice ourselves in the name of others because in doing so, we hurt ourselves and them.
When I realized that my well-being was linked to the well-being of others, that caring about myself was caring about others, I felt liberated and more capable of helping others.
I think this is conscious selfishness.
If your choices help only others but not you, then you are doing us all a disservice, since you are helping us from an underdeveloped state of being. The more you weaken physically, financially, emotionally, the less you can care for others in these areas.
Being Self-Centered at Times Helps Others
The more you help yourself get stronger, the more you can help the weakest.
The more you help yourself get happier, the more you can help the saddest.
The more you help yourself get relaxed, the more you can help the most stressed.
The more you help yourself get wealthier, the more you can help the poorest.
And if you become far stronger/happier/healthier/wealthier than the average, then the more people you will be able to help in the world.
Find the ways your strength would help others. Reading a math book could make you wiser for your children; going to the movie theater could relax you so you will bring higher vibes to your home.
You can’t help others from a weakest position. An ill person can’t help us to be healthier; a hungry person can’t feed others.
Be at peace with yourself when you are well-intentioned selfish.
You might be thinking: Should I do things for myself only when that helps others? Does all this mean that I can’t do things just for myself anymore?
I enjoy eating ice cream without remotely being aware how my pleasure helps others. I keep doing what feels good for my senses and my being.
Maybe doing things for ourselves feels so good because at the end, even if we don’t perceive it, our happiness helps others.
Let’s celebrate that each one of us is so important for all of us. We are one!
Photo by Kyle Garrity