I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “You first have to take care of yourself. No one else will.” Then they refer you to the airplane oxygen mask scenario. “Put yours on before you stop to help your child put her’s on.”
That’s a terrible position from which to argue for the selfishness that’s being encouraged. In fact, the airplane example is one of selflessness. The parent’s selfish act would be to either help their child and risk making them an orphan or ignore their child altogether. The whole idea of putting your mask on first is so that you can help your child.
No, I think we need to seriously challenge the advice to take care of ourselves first. Let me be blunt. Stop being selfish! You’re not that important. In fact, imagine what the world would be like if we all considered others as more important than ourselves. I think we would have a pretty extraordinary world.
I know that is idealistic, but that doesn’t mean a selfless attitude of putting others first is a bad idea. The problem is that when we put others first, we are by definition putting ourselves second, at best. But it’s the right approach to life.
So, as we make decisions and choices about our own lives, let’s stop being selfish. Let’s consider the effect of those choices on others. Choosing to forgo your comfort, fulfilled dreams, or happiness is not a naive or weak approach. It is an honorable, humble, and godly choice. It is the choice to which we ought to default.
What might happen if we decide to act according to this principle? Yes, we may get taken advantage of. Yes, we may miss out on an “amazing” opportunity. These negative results and others are very possible. But, I find that a selfless approach to life brings peace to my soul. It focuses me in a calming way that fills me with joy. It creates community, camaraderie, and goodwill.
In some ways, an altruistic lifestyle can be rewarding in a pure and beautiful way. Some might even say it is its own form of selfishness… selfishness that we all benefit from!