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“Humans exist for the sake of one another.”
— Marcus Aurelius
A few weeks ago I talked about being self-sovereign, that you are in 100% responsible for your choices and actions, and that you may live exactly the want to, regardless of the opinions of others. I got to thinking about it, and I wanted to cover another aspect of what it means to be self-sovereign. When you choose to live by your rules and values, it means that you are only controlling the things that you can control, and not trying to control those you can’t. But does this mean that you can ignore everyone around you and live in ways that are only helpful to you?
Yes, you can. But does that mean that you should?
I talk a lot about how we are not responsible for the feelings of others, so why should we care about the feelings of others? Why shouldn’t you just be a selfish person and do whatever you want? I will not tell you shouldn’t. You have the right to be exactly the person who you want to be, and so does everyone else. They also have the right to be exactly who they want to be and choose the life that they want.
So why should we care about other people?
To quote one of my favorite films of all times:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.”
— Moulin Rouge
Because caring for other people, connecting with people, loving others, and being loved is the only thing that matters in life.
And why do I think this is the case? Because you can have all kinds of possessions but when you die, they are no longer yours. You can’t take them with you. All that is true left of you, and what has the most impact, is how you treated the people around you.
If we think about it from a purely evolutionary point of view, what is the purpose of life? To survive, and have offspring. That’s it. So basically, your life would like this: You’re born, you grow up, at some point have sex, do your best to see that your offspring survive as long as they can so that they can have offspring, then you die. Doesn’t sound all the great right?
But the thing is, other people make this life worth living. Having a loving and supportive community around you is where you find the most fulfillment in life. Not the amount of money you have or the amount of stuff you have, but impact you have on other people.
So why do I believe that caring about others is the purpose of life? My father died in when I was 24 years old. It was a hard time for me. We weren’t really talking to each other because I was still so angry about the abuse I suffered growing up. I didn’t know how to be around him. I wanted to forgive him, but I didn’t know how. He died rather suddenly so there was no time to address these things, and to be honest, I don’t know that he would have been open to talking about them anyway. I don’t have any possessions from my father and I’m fine with that. The things that I have are the lessons that I learned from him, both good and bad. Those are the things that lasted after his death. And what would I have liked most to have from him? More memories of love and compassion and connection. Those are the things that I still crave, even though he’s been gone for decades.
“That before long you’ll be no one, and nowhere. Like all the things you see now. All the people now living. Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.”
— Marcus Aurelius
On a larger scale, when have empathy and compassion for others, we create a better society. We need cooperation and connection to create a society that benefits the most people, rather than just the wealthy or the privileged. More important than buildings or money or anything else, a culture should be judged by its values – by its willingness to help the poor, to protect the helpless, and ensure equal rights to all. The greatest thinkers, poets, and philosophers throughout time have made this abundantly clear. Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama…I could on for days.
When we have empathy and compassion for others, we create a better life for ourselves. When we connect with others, we can work together make our own communities better because we can do far more together than we can by ourselves.
While some of us may be more naturally empathetic, we are physiologically wired for compassion. In 1848, a man named Phineas Gage was injured in a construction accident. An explosion drove an iron rod through his skull. He survived, but his personality was markedly different. He became much more profane, cared little for others, and had reduced impulse control. His ability to be empathetic towards others seemed to have shut down.
So what happens when you don’t care about others?
When we don’t care about others, and decide that we don’t have to consider our impact on others, we see the damage it causes us as a society. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen countless numbers of people who decided that it more important for them to get a haircut or to go drink at a bar than to slow the spread of the Corona virus, and help save lives. They have refused to get vaccinated or wear masks in public because they felt the lives of others were less important than having to change their lifestyle. Their choices have dampened the effort to control the virus and now we are dealing with an uptick in cases, and more contagious variants.
On a personal level, if you are materialistic, you might work hard to have all kinds of possessions. You might want other people might admire you. But the thing is, you can’t control if they admire you or not. You might think they admire you for your wealth or status, but you honestly don’t know if they do or not. When we set our hearts on possessions, we are actually putting our happiness in the wrong things. When we are only self serving, we are constantly taking, so the control of our happiness is outside of ourselves.
If you are a selfish person, then you’re probably not going to have a lot of friends. Nobody wants to spend their time around someone that makes everything all about them, who takes, and never gives or contributes to the friendship. If you choose to devote all of your time and energy doing things that hurt other people, then chances are you will not have that many close friends. Certainly not any that care for you and have your back when you need it.
If you want to have people close to you that love and care for you, then you need to be a loving and caring person yourself.
So how do you find a balance of living your life the way you want and to live with others?
When we choose to be self-sovereign, we take responsibility for our actions. We are honest. We are are clear about our intentions. We accept the results and consequences for our actions. We do not blame others for how we feel or for our actions. Most importantly, we pay attention to how our actions impact others and we apologize do our best to make amends when we make mistakes. We do not defend our actions when we know they are wrong just because we don’t want to own our mistakes.
We set boundaries because we know that by letting people know how they can best interact with us; it makes it easier for them to love us. Boundaries also help us take care of ourselves so that we can give our best to others. It does not mean that you need to change because someone doesn’t like what you did or said. If you are living up to your core principles and have acted in a way that you feel is honorable, then you do not need to change to fit others. You do not need to become something you’re not because someone else is uncomfortable with it.
We also respect others and honor their boundaries. We do this by asking what they need and how we can help. We do not simply decide that we know best and try to impose our will on them. We do our best to help where we can, but do so in a way that respects our own boundaries and values.
One thing I have learned in my life is when we are selfish, and only look out for ourselves, it makes us less happy. When we harden ourselves to the plight of others, we miss an opportunity to increase our ability for compassion, and do something good. When we are too focused on us, we may get what we want, but we don’t feel as good. Simply put, it feels good to be connected to and to help others.
You need not look about for the reward of a just deed; a just deed in itself offers a still greater return.
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