Letters from TZ

Looking out for number one

Unless you’re a politician, you probably think that you are better than one. Everyone knows that politicians are selfish, self-centred and self-seeking, right? We accuse them of being insensitive to the needs of the people. Of being focused on their own ambitions to the exclusion of everything else. Of putting themselves before their constituents. We whinge and moan about our ruling classes, all the while wishing that we were in their position, but refusing to admit it.

We would rather define them as being devious and manipulative in their pursuit of power, rather than as people for whom quite simply, politics is profession. We cast aspersions on the way they choose to conduct their affairs without realising that in truth, they are not that different from the average man or woman on the street. Because is there any other way to live than to put yourself first?

If we are honest, most of our decisions start from the point of our own need. Our frames of reference are inherently egocentric. So why do we look down on people who are clever enough to realise that we live in a ‘me-first’ socio-economy and courageous enough to put themselves first without apology? What is so wrong about looking out for number one?

I’ve often heard it said that you must love yourself before you can love anyone else – the argument goes that if you don’t have love you can’t give it away. If you extend that argument, it would also be proper to say that you can’t be selfless unless you are selfish. In other words, you have to have some to give some.

People will tell you that there are two ways to examine your life – you either choose to see the glass as half-empty or half-full. There is no setting for just ‘empty’. At all times, there must be something in your glass otherwise you will be of no use to anybody, least of all yourself.

Darwin spoke the truth when he espoused his ‘survival of the fittest’ theory. I’m not an evolutionist by any means, but it is pretty obvious to see that one of man’s strongest instincts is that of self-preservation. In situations where our lives or livelihoods are threatened, in most instances, we will seek first to preserve ourselves. You may say that a mother will protect her child first, but even a mother who protects her child does so because she cannot imagine her own life without that child. I don’t know whose fault it is, or if indeed blame must be assigned, but I do know that every human being has a self-serving gene, and it is dominant despite all our various efforts to disguise it.

If you think about it, there is nothing wrong with a little self-love. The problem begins when we refuse to share the love. The whole point in filling your glass until it is overflowing is so that you can empty it out. If you don’t do that, where’s the room to fill it up again? You’ve got to keep it moving. The leap from ‘having’ to ‘hoarding’ is a very easy one to make and we all need to be careful not to fall into it. The true value in thinking about yourself first is grounded in the fact that we are all human. It’s that age-old ‘do-unto-others’ philosophy. A focus on self should lead one to an understanding of their own needs, and if you understand your needs, you should be able to understand the needs of others – and more importantly, to empathise with them.

I think it’s fair to say then, that self-interest is natural – obsessive self-seeking behaviour on the other hand, is not. Much as we hate the word, in all things there must be moderation. In a moderate world there is balance. A little bit of selfishness here, some selflessness there and all is well on the planet.

It could be then, that some politicians err on the side of obsession but they do deserve gratitude for having one enviable virtue: honesty. Every time you criticise one for being selfish, claiming that you are not, you are showing yourself to be a liar. Honestly speaking, there is no other way to live than to put yourself first, because if your life is an empty shell, it is of no use to anybody.