We naturally have self-interest but it should be wise rather than foolish self-interest by taking others needs into account as well as ours. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
I like this quote, as it acknowledges a basic human behavior, yet implores us to try to use it for the good of all. What do I mean by that?
The quote starts by acknowledging that we all have self-interest. There are things we must do to continue to survive, as well as things we really want to do, for any number of reasons.
But the quote doesn’t decry such an impulse as evil or declare it as something to be shunned. It simply asks us to temper our natural interests and desires by taking the needs of others into account.
There is usually more than one way to achieve our desired results, to satisfy our self-interests. However, not all paths are equal. Some help others, and others may cause distress or even harm.
The quote asks us to factor those side-effects into our decision process, and to try to do as little harm to others as possible. No one wants to harm others, and to do so without thinking is foolish at best, right?
Why is being considerate important?
Think about the last time someone cut you off in traffic. Were they taking your needs into account, or were they simply considering their self-interest and behaving in a foolish manner?
Conversely, have you ever been honked at because you did something which angered someone else? Might they have thought that you didn’t consider their needs when you acted in your self-interest?
While there will always be times when you are in a hurry, there are probably a few time, every now and then, when you aren’t. In those less hurried times, could you slow down and pull in behind someone, instead of cutting in front of them?
So far, all we have talked about is driving in traffic. I imagine you can think of other times in your life when you didn’t give as much consideration to others as you probably should have, right? Family situations, especially holiday gatherings with more distant relatives, are also excellent times to practice being considerate.
Where can I apply this in my life?
I would imagine you could apply this to almost every aspect of your life. Where could you think that it wouldn’t apply, might be a better question. I have searched through my mind, and keep finding new places to apply it, but cannot find a single counter-example. Can you?
In family life, how often does someone use or take the last of something without replacing it, or adding it to the shopping list so that it might be replenished? That’s a prime example of an act of self-interest which did not take the needs of others into account, right? The last slice of pizza, the last soda, the last napkin, the last clean fork, the list could be endless.
With your friends, do you take the last beer, empty the wine bottle, or grab the last can of soda, or do you take others into consideration? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking if anyone wants one, or letting the host know that they’re out. Duty done, others accounted for, enjoy your self-interest, right?
The same for grabbing food or any other item in limited supply. It could even extend to whether you add your trash very carefully to the pile already there, or if you try to take the trash out, so that there is room for others to add theirs. Sometimes all it takes is a careful push down, right?
What about at social gatherings? Do you need to be next in line for the bathroom, or can you let someone in ahead of you who has an obvious need? What about where you sit, or with whom you sit? There are plenty of opportunities to meet your needs while accommodating the needs of others, if we pay attention.
At work, do we need to be the first to speak, or the first out of the meeting? Does every sentence have to start with the word “I,” or can you be a little more accommodating to the others around you? Yes, credit where credit is due, but if others helped, could you say “we” every once in a while? You can still claim credit for the tricky or tough bits, right?
Throughout our lives and in every aspect of our lives, we have needs. We can be foolish and selfish, doing what we want. Or we can be wise and compassionate, and consider how to get our needs taken care of, without causing unneeded difficulties for others.
It’s just a thought and an observation before each decision. Are you willing to put forth the effort? Will you at least try? It doesn’t mean it dictates your choice, but that you think before you act.
- Awakening to Kindness (awakeningtothedance.com)
- Mindful ethics for bloggers (journlaw.com)
- Human happiness depends on taking others into account. (philosiblog.com)
- When you concern yourself with others, you naturally develop a sense of self-confidence. To help others takes courage and inner strength. (philosiblog.com)