Sometimes there is too much goodness in us and we have to override our instinct towards selflessness in order to protect and help others.
Take an aircraft, the engines on fire, the compartment filling with smoke. The breathing appratus drops from the ceiling. The instructions are clear – don’t help your loved one in the seat next to you. Don’t rush to the aid of the child across the aisle, flailing and confused though they may be. You must save yourself first because that’s the only way you can help them. Get your own oxygen mask on, then turn your attention to others.
This is not simply because you must live so you can help those around you. There are two dangers in the smoke filled environment – there is the threat of death for sure, but before that, the danger of falling unconscious.
You must remain conscious. If those around you pass out, it’s not the end. Their lives can still be saved provided you remain awake and calm, act but do so from a position of safety and strength.
The same principle applies in our lives – whether it’s caring for family members or deciding where priorities lie and how much time to devote to work, or our own needs.
If we always put others first, we run the risk of falling unconscious. Wake up, and we can help them so much more. But to be awake, we will need a streak of selfishness, taking the time, before anything else, to reach for our oxygen – in whatever form it may take.
We need breathing room. Only once we have it can we be selfless.
Photo by Nick@ via Flickr and Creative Commons