By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing Manager
The very definition of altruism reveals that this is a trait that is neither sustainable nor in our best interest. In fact, it seems to me that altruism is in direct opposition to self-compassion and can in fact be detrimental to both our physical and mental health.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that we stop supporting charitable causes or start refusing to give up our seat to the pregnant lady on the bus. On the contrary, I am the first to agree that a bit more kindness in the world would do wonders.
My intention with this post is to shine a light on a dangerous belief that many of us hold to be true: that it means more if we sacrifice something in order to help someone else.
I respectfully beg to differ.
The consequences of depriving ourselves can at first seem small compared to the good we perceive we’re doing. So what if we’ve been volunteered for overtime again? Who cares if we have to sacrifice another night out? In the words of my 3rd grade math teacher, “small things add up”. Eventually the consequences, which at first seem insignificant, can become, well, consequential. Furthermore, it is inevitable that we will eventually run out of altruistic steam if we are in a constant state of sacrifice.
I am suggesting that before being selfless we must be self-full. This means we must ensure we are nourishing ourselves both internally and externally. When we are full to the brim with self-compassion and care, it will cost us very little to generate the smallest or most breathtaking of beneficent acts to our fellow humans.
Airplane emergency procedure teaches this philosophy flawlessly – secure your own mask before assisting others. That concept makes perfect sense. Once you secure your own mask it will be infinitely easier to help others. Rather than fighting for oxygen, you’ll be thinking more clearly, and you’ll have more strength to offer.
When applied to life, however, this idea is a tough thing to swallow. Didn’t we learn at a young age that being a good person means putting others before ourselves? That only by being selfless, by being truly altruistic may we have any positive impact on the world? Though this belief has been relentlessly ingrained in me, I have come to the conclusion that not only is it false, but this way of thinking is also preventing us from leading the fullest and richest lives we are capable of.
Once we start taking care of ourselves by directing kindness and compassion inward, then lending a helping hand to others will not only be vastly meaningful, but also an almost effortless process.
There will be countless times in life when we’ll be called upon to assist others, loved ones and strangers, in putting on their metaphorical oxygen masks. My sincere hope is that we graciously provide a helping hand, that we assist others with their oxygen masks and hold their hands when they’re scared. I hope that we, as a global community, lift each other up after we fall.
But it is my deepest wish that we do not give up a part of ourselves to do this, that we can feel secure and unashamed when putting our own mask on first.