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Importance of Improvement

Should we help ourselves or should we help others?

WHERNTO: wellnes  heedism  erudite 

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People sometimes get into a tizzy about whether to help others or help themselves. There is no need to see the issue as an either-or.

Helping oneself

Sometimes people think they themselves are the primary concern. The ancient Greek story goes that Narcissus saw his own reflection in a pool of water and fell madly in love with himself, eventually meeting his demise from this affliction.

While such examples of morbid self-love do exist, most people don't tend to follow in the flowersteps of Shelley's narcissi from The Sensitive Plant:

Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall,
And narcisssi, the fairest among them all,
Who gaze on their eyes in the stream's recess,
Till they die of their own dear loveliness;

Self-improvement should be a sensible and beneficial endeavour, but sometimes it deteriorates into selfishness.

Helping others

Most people like to help those in need. There is likely some inherent biological urge to do so, though sometimes people like to help others because they feel they will personally benefit from the effort: they may receive gratitude or recognition. However, those are generally not the primary reasons why people like to help others.

Usually, we help others because we see that some being needs assistance and afterwards, like the swallow in Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince, we may feel all warm inside:

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done.

"It is curious," he remarked, "but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold."

"That is because you have done a good action," said the Prince.

Helping others should also be a sensible and beneficial action, but sometimes it escalates into meaningless self-sacrifice.

Becoming the change

Sometimes an effort is made to combine the two ideas in sequence, with ample doses of an often misunderstood Gandhi quotation:

"Become the change you wish to see in the world" is unfortunately one of those horribly misapplied items that is circulated with wild abandonment by some people who feel they've been literally struck with enlightenment.

There is an illustrative story about the mother who went to Gandhi to get him to ask her boy to stop eating sweets. The kid wasn't listening to her apparently and she figured she'd bring in the big guns! Gandhi said he would speak to her son, but asked her to come back in 2 weeks with him. When she did, he told the kid to stop eating sweets providing some rationale for doing so. Awestruck by the great Mahatma, the boy readily agreed!

The mother was puzzled and asked Gandhi why he didn't just talk to her boy two weeks ago.

Gandhi acknowledged with some embarrassment that he would have, but before he could legitimately ask another to do so, he first had to shake his own 'sugar habit'.

What happens too often though is that people spend so much time on changing themselves that they never get out to change anything else. They feel they can't do or say anything until they reach perfection themselves! This process, however, could continue over several lifetimes and it is uncertain whether such procrastination has any pragmatic or even personal merit.

Activists should better themselves, so that they can do better. They should acquire various skills communicative, technical, legal and academic, for instance, depending upon the areas they plan to work in.

They need to be healthy.

They need to develop self-discipline and inner strength so any bitterness towards the status quo they are fighting, doesn't get devastatingly re-applied to themselves.

They need to last and not burn out!

View the situation as a sport where you are on a team and the bad guys are on another. If you want to win the game, you need to train hard and take care of yourself. You don't need to go around giving everyone your food, your water or peptalks till 3am in the morning when you should be getting your own sleep.

Your efforts will do more as an example for them to follow, than your 'noble sacrifices', because by being better, you can compete better and bring along others to do the same. A stronger team means better performance.

This idea is neither selfish nor self-sacrificing, but it requires we not fall into the sequential trap.

Simultanity over sequencing

By bettering yourself, you can better others too!

The improvement doesn't need to be done first followed by going out and doing the job at hand. There need be no sequential aspect to the undertaking as some people try to force.

You can become the change by making the change in the world.

Gandhi didn't become the Mahatma and then go out to liberate India.

He became the Mahatma because he went out to liberate India!

You don't need to wait to be perfect before performing your task.

Your perfection comes through your performance!

For instance, if you are a tennis player, you don't spend years perfecting your serve, your ground strokes, your volley, then saunter out to demolish your opponent. You work on your strokes and you play your matches.

Your perfection comes through your performance!

If you are a musician, you don't spend your life doing scales, arpeggios, and musical exercises, finally going on stage to draw that standing ovation. You develop your technique because of your concerts.

Your perfection comes through your performance!

Those who stand up for the helpless and the voiceless didn't sit in front of some How To Construct An Argument book till they were 'ready' to hit cyberspace or the lecture circuit. They earned their skills through study as well as through involvement in education and confrontations.

Your perfection comes through your performance.

If you wait around to 'save yourself' first, you may find there is nothing out there left for you to save.

You don't have to have it all in order to give it your best!

Give what you can with what you've got.

Do it meticulously and learn from the experience.

Not only will you get better, so will your planet and the lot of those who share it with you.

By simultaneously working to be your best and giving that best to others, you follow the rhythm of the strongest force in the universe: the force of evolution.

Its flow is undeniable; its morality unquestionable; its persistence unshakable.

Evolution provides the only path; there is no other.

It is up to us to choose how to walk upon it.