Serving others instead of the self is seen as more spiritual, a higher way of living. But for me, it always seemed just as lopsided as the first. How is it better to always put the needs of others before your own?
I’m always reminded of what they tell people on airplanes during the explanation of the emergency procedures. If the oxygen masks drop, put yours on first and then see to any children who are with you. If you “altruistically” see to your two-year-old and then pass out before you get your masks on, then what? Your child won’t be able to carry you to the exit. They probably won’t even be able to get their seat belt unbuckled. Other passengers are going to have to tend to you. And now instead of someone easily carrying an unconscious two-year-old down the aisle, they’ll have to manoeuvre a full grown adult, slowing down the evacuation and putting people at risk.
Having the intention of serving the group resonates with me far more. Because I am included in the group. Doing something that makes me unhappy in order to make someone else happy doesn’t serve the group because there is still an unhappy person. Going without something I need so that someone else can have it doesn’t serve the group because there is still a group member in need.
I’m not saying that if I have one cookie that I know is my friend’s favourite I would never offer it to them. That would make me happy. I’m talking about doing things that decrease my level of happiness, cause me great stress, or work to my detriment with the aim of increasing someone else’s happiness. If I found out a friend did something really nice for me but it caused her great hardship, I wouldn’t feel happy about it.
I don’t feel happy knowing that my happiness comes at the expense of someone else’s.
If that cookie was both our favourite and the company that made it was going out of business, it would be wonderful to split it and enjoy the last delicious crumbs together. I think that would be a nicer memory to share rather than one person looking on as the other gobbles it up.
Service to the group, me included, seems to be more in line with finding a win-win scenario. The group wins when everybody wins.