I’d like to begin this article with a short story about two close friends talking on a calm winter’s night. It had been a difficult day for both men. Exhausted from a hard day’s labor, they decided to grace each other with their company. Despite thousands of miles riddled with mountains, marshes and lakes, the two friends journeyed to meet each other’s side. After a brief rekindling of their spirits, both men agreed to accompany each other on a grand journey to the edge of the known world. They collected wood, bronze and resin and with their combined effort constructed a ship whose sails would be filled on the calmest of nights and whose bow could split any wave.
As cold ocean waves lapped across the length of the ship, both men could not help but reminisce. They spoke of memories and times passed, which brought with them joy culminating in feelings of slight desolation. The freezing ocean’s silence was broken by sounds of heavy laughter and delight, but soon returned back to a deafening silence.
As the shining shores of meadows and the towering pines of forests filled the scenery of their journey, one of the men was troubled by his thoughts. As he peered over the edge of the ship, his gaze was met with a clear reflection of his face; his expression was one filled with pain and confusion. The weight of his thoughts were heavier than steel and his body could no longer bear the load stored within his mind; he called upon his friend.
As both men sat across from each other and as seawater sprinkled itself upon their faces, the troubled friend queried his companion, “You know of me as a man of strength and honor, and I as a man of principle and love”. The friend responded with, “Without a doubt you are all four of those things, why must you reiterate it so?”. The troubled friend answered, “In the past I had lived a life of self-destruction, of martyrdom”. He continued, “For the greater good of my people I sacrificed myself and, in turn, I was able to restore harmony”. His friend beseeched, “A noblest of actions, yet why are you so troubled my friend?”. The troubled friend answered, “I find myself in a new time, a time where I must not sacrifice my body and spirit for good.” Pursuing this thought he spoke again, “How can I be so strong in the slaughter for others and yet so weak for myself?”. His friend, contemplating the question begged of him, stood up and slowly paced to the bow of the ship. As the moonlight reflected off his shimmering armor and looming mountains filled his vision, he answered his troubled friend: “You have found strength in sacrifice, now you must find strength in preservation.”
Self-destructive and self-preserving behaviors are at constant odds in the human heart; should I do something for someone else or should I focus on myself? We are constantly trying to balance our life between these two principles. Some of us find a balance between the two, others can only watch as they are consumed by one.
However, neither behavior is inherently good or inherently bad. To seek to sacrifice yourself as an altruistic act for others can be an amazing feat of determination and humbleness. But it can also spiral into a vicious cycle of destruction. To focus on one’s individual journey of self-growth and understanding can be an extremely instructive and nurturing act. But it can also lead a person to become detached for the world around them, forcing them to view the world only as they see it. Personally, these two acts are at constant odds within myself. I feel as though I am an inherently selfish person that at times allows himself to become completely absorbed into his own reality. While I strive for and seek balance, it is an arduous process that I have yet to master fully.
In reality the relationship between these two actions resembles a spectrum that varies depending on the person it is related to. Some of us may be more willing than others to engage in altruistic acts. We at times may find that this spectrum also varies day to day. Some days we feel that selfishness is required for the betterment of our situation. Other days, we may see the importance in relinquishing self-gain for the benefit of others. It can change with mood, the person/people you are engaging with, and it will surely change with you as you grow as an individual. In truth, this spectrum is so variable and is so reliant on the individual that it is almost impossible to concretely explain it.
As such, our spectrums are at the mercy of life and circumstance. It is a complicated problem that will surely never be solved. But it is not our duty to solve the mystery of this spectrum, instead it is our duty to discover balance within it. Do not be afraid to be kind or selfish but fear the extent of your kindness and selfishness.
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