Around finals week last year (i.e. “hell week” as it’s called in our college circles), one of my professors said something along the lines of “Everyone wants to save the world. You are all so ambitious and young that you believe that the world is yours to save, but sometimes it’s okay if the only person you save is yourself.” On a side note, I’m sure she is not the first person to say this or something like this, but she just happens my source.
What she was alluding to here is that we were putting too much pressure on ourselves to be heroes. Too much pressure to be the ones to save the day, day after day. To be the ones to cure cancer and stop the planet’s warming. That we were sacrificing ourselves too much. And while I agree that there is a line where you may have sacrificed too much of yourself for other people, I don’t believe that we only have a responsibility to save ourselves.
We might have a responsibility to save ourselves first but that doesn’t mean we don’t also have a responsibility to do whatever we can to make the world a better place in the process of saving ourselves. It is kind of like being on a boat that’s about to sink. Of course, in that instance, you would want to have a lifejacket on yourself before you can put life jackets on anyone else. But you could save yourself as well as everyone in the boat if you could simply stop the boat from sinking.
The responsibility of saving the world or making the world a better place is not just up to one individual or a group of a select few. It is all of our jobs to put up the best efforts for the people around us. In seeking to save ourselves, we eventually lose ourselves – our sense of meaning and purpose and knowing what it means to make a difference and live a life that is worthy because we’re helping someone else to live.
There is a big movement toward self-acceptance and self-love. And there is a right time and place for that. However, if all we do is love ourselves and accept ourselves and save ourselves, we’re missing out on the internal rewards of doing the greater good. Doing the greater good does not mean that we forget about ourselves or go off on some tear of ultimate martyrdom and sacrifice. But it does mean that with the knowledge and blessings we have, we’ll be hard-pressed to justify a reason for simply saving ourselves alone.
I understand that this kind of thinking points towards mental health and I fully recognize that one’s own mental health is extremely important. Sometimes, you have to put that first and there’s just no other option. There’s just no other way for you to survive, and what good are you to other people if you’re not alive enough to help anyway, right? However, my point is that we all need to save the world in order to save ourselves.
If all of us really tried to make sure that at least one other person was taken care of or gave our time and energy to at least one other cause that we deeply care about, we would see such a difference in the world around us and in ourselves. Sometimes, the change we deeply want to see begins within us and would never be possible if we only worked on ourselves. By saving others, we, by default, save the world. In the mix of all that, we save ourselves. Not because we’re doing anything specific to save ourselves but because when we start helping others, they will start looking out for us.
I simply refuse to believe that only looking out for myself is the best way to live my life. I need a bigger purpose than that. By looking out for others, for a greater cause, for a bigger reason, I’m looking out for myself. I’m not saying that my bigger purpose is to save the world, but I do think that every human being has an ethical responsibility to other human beings, and thus has a duty to, at the very least, try to make the world and the society we live in better.
They call us a selfish generation and I typically want to prove that statement false. However, if people continue living by my professor’s ideology, I think we might be well on our way to proving everyone who labels us that way, right.
Collaboration with Daniella Whyte