(image from Pixabay)
It is clear - we live in a world where we focus entirely on ourselves. Is it the narcissistic age? Is it the decade(s) of intense navel gazing? Is it the "me me me" era? We are told constantly that celebrity is King and that the only worthwhile entertainment is so-called reality tv (so-called as it in no way represents real reality), and advertisers show us that we are imperfect and that it is only with their product or service that we can achieve perfection. The current aim of the game is go "viral" - even if that means the drive to do good things is driven by the rather selfish need to be lauded in some way for your compassion, kindness, and virtue, as noted by W. Keith Campbell. In the world of celebrity and tv, a certain level of narcissism is to be expected, but what worries me, the reason that I felt compelled to write this article, especially in light of my #2017characterchallenge Compassion month, is that this intense self focus is becoming a huge part of the wellbeing movement. This does not sit well with me, and hasn't for awhile.
The constant advice out there is "you have to look after yourself first," the ol' "you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others," and too a certain extent I agree. Only to a certain extent.
I have felt uncomfortable for a long at the extent to how much we take the "look after yourself first" mantra. It kind of stemmed from a conversation I had with a friend about a year ago. My friend is Christian and his feelings on the extreme inward looking approach of current wellbeing beliefs were very much against. He felt that it was in looking outward and helping others, in easing another person's suffering that we... find our purpose in life.
Is this not what compassion is? The observation and empathising with another's suffering. And should this not be what we focus on? A selfless approach to life, where even the desire to help other's is not of benefit to yourself, but your focus is to serve others. This is not the way that it stands in wellbeing circles, and even in academic approaches to virtues such as compassion the aim of being compassionate is to bring yourself emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing.
We have people who fully embrace the spiritual life and become monks, nuns, priests, etc, who embrace complete dedication to others (and God) and complete denial of material and frivolous pleasures; we have people who pursue a more hedonistic approach to wellbeing, the celebrity who spends thousands on "wellbeing" products (and then touts these products to their fans), the Instagram star who makes millions off showing how Yoga and eating clean makes them amazingly perfect...
Is there not a happy medium?
I think what we have to realise is that as we do things for ourselves we have to be doing it for all others as well. To engage in an act of wellbeing, an act of kindness to self, embracing self compassion, we do this with a purpose, we do these acts for our mother and father, our siblings, our friends, our enemies, and even the stranger walking along the footpath, buying coffee at the coffee shop, and driving a little too fast on the road. By looking after ourselves, for others, we come to that middle ground, that path that circles round on itself, an open heart and mind. There is a place for boundaries, but make that boundary a small hedge with pretty flowers that bloom all year round. There is a place for self care, but make it a shared experience, whether that means you meditate on your own, or you go walking in the park with a group of friends. There is also a place for outward looking - without selfish intention - and this can be done at anytime, anywhere.
When you think of compassion most people think of it as an outward virtue, and whilst I believe this should be the true intention of this trait, there is still room for self compassion (as I wrote in this previous blogpost), how has showing self compassion actually been a compassionate act for others? Let me know in the comments.