So, as it happens, I was having a discussion with a friend… Ok, the discussion was an overestimation of the amount of contact I get to have socially. It was email. I admit it freely, but there was back and forth and all of that… and what was I saying? Oh, yes… so, I was having interactive commentary electronically with my friend about self-care. Hmmmm… well, now, that is just a little sad. So much of my interactive contact lately appears to be via technology… <sigh> It is better than nothing at all, I suppose. I think that somehow we have become incredibly polarized in our modern western society about what constitutes appropriate levels of caring for oneself vs. levels of that self-care becoming selfishness and self-centered disregard for others. The problem seems to be that we have become as hyperbolic in this continuum as we have in opinions and the expression thereof. Happy balance seems to be something that people struggle with universally.
I’ve touched on some of the issues previously (See previous post on Living Life Without Giving a F@$%), and a friend of mine has often talked about the art of being considerate and having some manners… or the sad fact that consideration and manners seem to be remarkably absent from too many of our daily interactions. There are so many ways we’ve lost the art of just interacting with the other humans and individuals that share space with us in a non-damaging way. The excuse I hear too often is that we live in a fast-paced world where antiquated social conformities have no place… or “they were rude to me first”… or “I don’t know them and probably won’t ever see them again.” These are horrible excuses. Who cares if it is a perfect stranger? Does that give anyone the right to be a complete jerk? I don’t think so, but I digress. I think I’ve also touched on the paying it forward philosophy at some point as well. You may never really know how your effort to be polite, kind, or just smile at a stranger might actually impact them in a way like the “trickle-down” effect made multiple individuals have a better day than the one that started for them. It could happen. And… not really where I was going when I started this… so…
I guess what prompted all of the musings and ponderings and interacting via email was that somehow for a good many people in my social and professional sphere, the pendulum has swung very far the other direction. For a good many people I know, the prospect of doing even the smallest thing for their own pleasure is riddled with guilt. They have fallen into an abyss of abnegation where they are unable to perceive their own martyrdom. Yep, that’s what I said… martyrdom.
Honestly, it isn’t that martyrs in history were so very bad. Hell, many of them were granted sainthood… until they were decannonized or whatever it is they do to remove them from our calendars. Great sacrifices in the cause of their faith, the well-being of others, or various acts of rectitude earned them the honor… usually posthumously, which seems a bit of a shame to me. Seriously, if these folks are such pillars to be idealized to advocate for the rest of us poor sinners… wouldn’t it have been nice to have their example around for a bit longer? Just a thought… Anyhow, I didn’t mean to take this into an ecclesiastical place that will likely get me in trouble with the various organized religions of the planet. That wasn’t really my intent. I guess what I am saying is that saints and martyrs for the most part are rare. It’s true. I suspect that there are a good many aspects of those lives may not have borne well under the scrutiny of modern media or social media where privacy is non-existent… BUT those lives were exceptional, which is all to the good. It doesn’t mean that all of us should live those same austere lives of sacrifice. In some ways, it is not only unhealthy… it’s pretentious.
We are all human… well, I’m making an assumption, y’all feel free to examine that point for yourselves, but I strongly suspect that if you are reading this… you are human. Most human beings are not actually set up for sainthood. Not saying that it couldn’t happen given the right circumstances, but we are programmed for survival and to that end, we are programmed with needs and wants and all that jazz.
I’m going to let you in on a secret… There is absolutely nothing wrong with that… provided of course that it doesn’t actually harm or interfere with someone else’s needs, wants, and all that jazz. The whole idea of self-sacrifice to the detriment of one’s own well-being ultimately results in one outcome: YOU WON’T BE THERE TO HELP THE NEXT TIME.
Yep. That is what I said. I’ll let you in on another secret: There are a lot of other people, employers, and entities in the world that are perfectly willing to let you sacrifice everything. To put no finer point upon it, they will use you up and find another one just like you. It sounds harsh when I put it that way, and I by no means am trying to say charity is wrong or a waste. I’m just saying that giving and caring starts at home… frequently with oneself. There are those in the world who adhere to this particular maxim a bit too stringently. Those people are the ones who are living their lives without giving… well, you know. However, it isn’t so much that they live their lives without inhibitions due to external judgment, but some of them live their lives without consideration for others or the feelings/rights/expectations/etc. thereof. They do what they want, when they want, say what they want, and they don’t care who it impacts, hurts, or even destroys so long as they receive what they wanted. That is the far end of that spectrum opposite the saintly souls who never pay attention to their own wants or needs and frequently sacrifice either or both to accommodate those of others.
NEITHER OF THESE EXTREMES IS HEALTHY OR SOMETHING TO WHICH WE SHOULD ASPIRE. There. I said it. It took me over 1000 words, but the idea is a balance. That happy medium thing I typed earlier. People need to think about and have some consideration for the other humans around them, but that includes themselves. Everyone should engage in regular self-care. This goes beyond the general eating, drinking, breathing, and sleeping. It also means that there should be opportunity to engage in enjoyment. Aside from nourishing the body, each individual should also nourish the soul… or psyche if you prefer. That means that there should be activities in life that enrich and… just make you feel good (obviously respecting the same rights of others and the various laws of the land… the fact that I have to put that in there is annoying but some people would take it too far). It also means that when a person takes the time to engage in those activities, there should not be the overwhelming guilt of “Oh no, I shouldn’t be [laughing, reading, coloring…insert other life affirming and enjoyable activities] because… reasons.” The reasons are immaterial. Everyone needs to have some pleasure in their lives. Our brains and bodies need the chemicals that are produced when we experience pleasurable sensations. When we deprive ourselves of that chronically, it can be as detrimental as depriving the body of nutrients or sleep. We function better as human beings when we feed our bodies and our psyches with the things that enrich us.
There are a lot of people in the world that are totally out of practice with this concept. They have been put in positions where self-sacrifice has become the norm. Self-sacrifice occasionally is not an unhealthy concept. In fact, when we love others, we frequently put their needs above our own. However, when it becomes an all-the-time situation, it is no longer healthy. It can even become detrimental to the care of those individuals we love. Occasionally it is not even in their best interests due to fostering dependency or setting them up for false senses of entitlement. Sometimes the idea of setting boundaries and engaging in the occasional self-indulgence is so foreign that when it happens, the guilt become unbearable. If this is the case for you, dear reader, it’s possible that you have lost the ability to have fun and enjoy your @#$%. I prescribe a consistent program of regular fun and daily self-care until it becomes less foreign. Doctor’s orders. If you are struggling for ideas, reach out to a friend… I’m betting they have some ideas or at the very least can brainstorm over chocolate ice cream (or chardonnay or… you get the idea). You have the absolute right to be the star of your own show and have some fun without the guilt leeches trying to suck all life from your soul.
Remember what the safety lecture says at the start of every flight on an airplane, in the event of cabin depressurization, breathing masks will fall from the ceiling. They always, ALWAYS, remind you to position your own mask before helping anyone else. That is to make sure that you don’t pass out or expire before you can actually assist the others. You can’t help someone else if you are incapacitated due to your altruism. So, charity and kindness and the care of others are entirely admirable, but remember to start with yourself. If you don’t take care to stay healthy and strong (physically or emotionally), you won’t be at your best for anyone else either. So, remember to affix your own mask over your nose and mouth first… and breathe normally.