If we work really hard and do everything people ask of us, do people owe us something in return? Can we count on the support of others when we most need it?
Many of us operate under an “if/then” assumption with the way we live our lives. Some of us even call it karma, though that may be a bit of a misinterpretation. If we are good and kind and compassionate, and we follow the law and keep our noses clean, then we should get good things in return. If we help others, we should be helped when we need it. If we contribute to the world, then the world should help us out in return. Right?
If our good deeds entitle us to good treatment in return, especially when we are in most desperate need of help, then why are there so many examples that prove just the opposite?
Let’s take Michael Jackson as an example. Why didn’t anyone save him? By all accounts, near the end of his life he was an extremely troubled and sick man. He had legal woes, he was losing favor with his fans, and he had an eclectic diet of drugs that eventually killed him. He needed help. Crowned the Prince of Pop, he gave the world the gift of his music and a legacy that inspired thousands of musicians and his humanitarian efforts undoubtedly helped millions worldwide.
We were happy to coronate him. We happily do the moon dance and sing along when “Billie Jean” graces the airways. Sure, Michael wasn’t perfect – he had more than his share of scandal and much of his criticism was warranted. Yet, the world benefited greatly from Michael Jackson’s creativity. He also donated his time, talent and treasures in exorbitantly generous ways throughout his life. So why wasn’t anyone there to save his life when he needed help? Where was his physician? His family? His friends?
Let’s look at another musician – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Mozart, even if they can’t perform one of his sonatas on demand. Yet, Mozart was another individual who was seemingly abandoned by his friends and family at the end of his life. His cause of death is unknown, but historians agree that Mozart left this world far from the pedestal of musical greatness and favor from which he had towered for most of his life. His drinking got a bit out of control, as some report, so maybe he repelled people when he needed them most. We’ll never really know.
Now let’s consider the legendary Marilyn Monroe. If ever there was a woman idolized and revered for her beauty and talent in America, it was Marilyn Monroe. She overcame an enormously difficult childhood to become the leading actress of her generation and is certainly considered a sex symbol for the ages. And yet, her fame and success couldn’t save her. She died of a drug overdose at the age of 36, alone in her bed with nary a friend in sight. If she gave so much to Hollywood (during her career, her films grossed over $200 million!), why did she die alone? Why wasn’t there anyone there to help her?
I believe the answer is this: No one saved Michael because it wasn’t anyone’s job to save Michael. It was Michael’s job to save Michael.
Similarly, it was Mozart’s job to save Mozart, and it was Marilyn’s job to save Marilyn. It logically follows, then, that it’s my job to save myself.
I’m not a stranger to times of despair. I’ve often felt alone or abandoned in what I consider very dark times. I’ve curled up into the fetal position and wallowed in self-pity, wondering through my tears why no one was there to comfort me. What had I done wrong? What had I done to deserve this sorrow and strife? I was a good person! I did good things!
It’s not always so dramatic – much more frequently, I simply allow bitter and resentful thoughts to creep up in my head and fester destructively. I wonder why my friend didn’t offer to help me out with my newborn after I helped her out with hers. I wonder why my husband didn’t buy me cake for my birthday after I bought him cake for his. I wonder why someone doesn’t do for me what I did for them. (Never mind the fact that they may have never asked me for the “favor” I bestowed on them, and let’s not mention that I didn’t request anything in return). I feel self-righteously slighted. It all seems so unfair.
But the truth is, no one abandoned me at those moments. I may have been alone, but how was anyone to know how much my heart was hurting? Further, what could they have done about it even if they had known?
I don’t own a Magic 8 Ball that gives me insight into the people around me. I don’t have the gift of osmosis that tells me without words when people around me need help. The people around me don’t have magic powers, either.
We wonder – Where’s our real-life ROI? If we invest in others, where is our own return on that investment?
But what if there isn’t a real-life ROI? What if all the stuff we do, all the boxes we check off our To Do lists, all our good deeds, all the favors we do for others, all that stuff … what if that stuff is not meant to be directly returned to us in this lifetime?
Does that mean we shouldn’t try to help other people when they need help? Not exactly. I firmly believe that we should help people as much as we can – as long as our help is welcome and we aren’t disregarding ourselves in the process. There are times when it’s entirely appropriate to set aside most of one’s own concerns to support another person – for example, when a friend loses their parent, when a loved one is dealing with an addiction or divorce, when a spouse is depressed and unable to help themselves, and certainly when caring for a young infant that is totally dependent on an adult to nurture and care for him or her.
That said, our only true responsibility in life is to take care of ourselves. I’m not saying that in a selfish way that endorses treating people poorly just for self-promotion. I’m saying it in the genuine spirit of responsibility. We can support and care for our loved ones – we can support our communities – we can fight for causes we believe in … but if we fail to take adequate care of ourselves and expect someone to swoop in and save us, we are neglecting the one soul we are not only called to care for, but the only soul we are also able to care for.
Taking care of ourselves is the ultimate form of responsibility. We can’t pass it off on anyone else in the form of blame, and we can’t neglect it in the name of strength. We have to take care of ourselves. It’s our job. It’s a simple as that.
Taking care of ourselves is the ultimate form of responsibility.
Many of us consider helping others to be a noble calling, and we will put others’ needs over our own at every turn. Sometimes it’s appropriate and necessary to put someone else’s needs over your own selfish desires. Other times, it’s worth a little more consideration. We don’t need to become martyrs just for the sake of being martyrs.
Imagine a world in which everyone felt compelled to take responsibility for their own health, happiness, sanity, actions, words and thoughts.
In a world where entitlement has run rampart, maybe it’s worth taking a moment to consider the biggest responsibility we have in life – the responsibility we have to take care of ourselves.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha