There are many discourses in our culture, telling us how we should behave.
(Always be suspect with the word “should!” Don’t Should On Yourself) Two cultural beliefs stand out in my mind today since they contradict: “Give to others first,” and “Take care of yourself first.”
We all recognize the first, do things for others, especially this time of the year. We make donations, give gifts, remember the marginalized and alone this holiday season. And it feels wonderful (to us and to them).
“Take care of yourself first,” is like putting your oxygen mask on before you help the child next to you in an airplane. It makes sense in many ways. You can asphyxiate while fumbling with your child’s mask and then you are no help to them.
What are you supposed to give?
So, what are we supposed to do? Take care of ourselves first or put others first? How could both of these make sense when they contradict? This leaves us no where to stand to be “right,” unless we simply decide one side of the fence to be on.
The problem is that we take these both as Universal Truths. These are not universal truth, just metaphors and they are helpful depending on the situation. Neither is the one and only “right.” When you are sick, you may have to cancel a commitment you had. Another time, when a friend needs you, you might have to put your own luxury on hold.
I often hear that a person’s previous therapist in response to hearing that they are trying to get better for their children, say, “Eventually you have to want to get better for you.”
(“Have to?” Uh-oh…Sounds like a “should,” This can easily make people negatively judge themselves that they are “not doing it right.” These people are fragile enough.)
But I see that they mean well, they want them to care about themselves. But we are not separate from our children. Loving them is like loving ourselves. And getting better for them is a noble and sustaining reason. It keeps this person alive, can help them get a life they want. It’s all good, why invalidate it by saying we have to do better? I can’t think of something more beautiful than living for your children.
If we are all united in this world, then doing things for others is like doing things for yourself. They are one and them same. (I am Ness.) Sometimes the best healing I have for myself, I have through healing someone else.
Let’s not get stuck in these metaphors: That we should be selfish or selfless.
Give until your heart bursts to yourself and others. Give forgiveness, give gifts, give gratitude, give love, give time, give joy, give tears, give hugs, give an ear, give a speech….