only when we love and indulge our selves that we are able to love others and give of ourselves more abundantly
“For 28 years of my life, I was in a limbo,allowing my mother-in-law to take over my life completely. She controlled every aspect and I was a humble nobody who danced to her tune. Today, I realise how much of my life I wasted. Now my first allegiance is to myself,” said an aunt recently.
This, coming from a woman whom we consider very self-sufficient and independent, was a bit of a shock. Her strident voice and self-assured ways today dont indicate someone who can be dominated or ordered around! Was it possible to change so much in one lifetime and,is the pre-requisite of a happy life, owing first allegiance to yourself? It seems to have worked for her!
One often comes across two extremes of people — those who are totally self-centred and cannot look beyond themselves, and the total self-sacrificing kinds, who put themselves through hardship to serve others! Both extremes are equally unpalatable.One needs to walk the median to be normal.
Our culture teaches us the virtue of thinking of others before you think of yourself. Altruism over selfishness. Western culture is more inclined towards putting yourself before others. Loyalty and duty is one thing, but altruism is denying oneself to serve another.Each stage of life has different demands on us. Most mothers will happily tell you the virtue of putting kids before their own selves. Many give up hard-earned careers to look after their children,priding themselves on their sacrifice.
But somewhere the sacrificing parents are indulging their whims more for their own satisfaction than because it is really needed. Their sacrifice makes them feel good. In a way we indulge our own selves when we are good to others. It gives us immense satisfaction to perceive ourselves as good human beings who care more about others.
It has been a pet theory of mine (earning me many raised eyebrows and disbelief ), that we love our children because they are a part of us and dependent on us,making us feel loved and needed. All love is ultimately about ourselves. I love someone because he or she makes me feel good about myself.How many instances have you heard of people loving those who detest them?
And so, believe it or not, most of what we do in life is ultimately geared towards giving oneself maximum satisfaction.Whether you are a devoted, self-sacrificing mother, a cheating spouse, a loyal friend, a successful CEO or a devoted husband, your first allegiance is to yourself. You do what you do because it either gives you happiness or the great satisfaction of knowing you are a loving,sacrificing soul, or as in the case of a cheating spouse, deserving and smart enough to have your cake and eat it too! In the end, it is all about, I, me, myself!
All of us are complicated,multidimensional personalities whose desires tug us in various directions. What defines our personality and character is the balance we strike in resolving these conflicts and arriving at a median that promotes maximum harmony in our own being. So we all arrive at an optimal trade-off point,which may vary from time to time.
The one common truth however is that the trade-off point ensures that each personality sits at a point that serves its own self best in terms of our own self-image and actualisation of our life goals. So certainly, our first allegiance is to ourselves. For, it is only when we are true to ourselves that we can be true to others. In whatever ways you may compromise to please others, ultimately what decides your happiness quotient is the compromise you made with yourself, your principles and your sense of well-being.
There is nothing wrong with owing yourself first allegiance. So long as all of us have a good self-image, greater good is bound to follow. That is where a good upbringing and influences are important.None of us would deliberately want to be bad spouses, mothers, friends or children. To satisfy our own self-image we would strive to be good at everything. And that would lead to the good of all. Even Christ said, love your neighbour as yourself; he never did say love him better than yourself! So go on, stretch your arm and pluck the first happiness for yourself; it will only help spread happiness all around.
While growing up as a kid in northern India in the early 1980s, I fondly remember one of my best friends in high school, Sher Ali Khan. He was a devout Muslim.
While in 9th grade, Sher Ali called me over to his home for the Islamic festival of Eid. The food at the table was overflowing and beautifully decorated. But a dilemma faced me soon. All the meat on the table was halal — a special religious technique of preparation of meat in the Islamic faith that I as a Sikh was forbidden to eat, due to the Sikh Rehat Maryada(Principles of Sikh Living). So I chose to stay a silent vegetarian that day partaking only of vegetables and sweets.
A couple of months later, he was over at our home for dinner and we had cooked meat without any religious preparation. Since the meat was not halal, Sher Ali became a vegetarian for that meal.
At that time I thought that our religions were getting in the way of our friendship. But as I reflect on it now, it seems that we were learning how to negotiate our religious differences.
In 1989, I came to the United States to pursue my Ph.D. degree at The Ohio State University. I was at least an ocean and a continent away from my parents and family.
The first question I asked myself was, “Do I even want to continue being religious?” After significant introspection, the answer became clear: yes, I wanted to be religious. But this was followed by another question: “What religious tradition should I be a part of?”
I remember approaching a local member of the Catholic clergy asking for his advice on what religious path to consider pursuing. His response surprised me. He asked me to look deeply into the faith I had grown up in and asked me to come back to him after giving my faith one more chance.
As you may have guessed by now, I never went back to that priest. But I am indebted to him for his advice. Here was someone from another religious tradition that helped me to grow in my own religious tradition. His advice on spirituality transcended the boundaries of religion.
Today, as I reflect on my friendship with my Muslim high school friend and the Catholic spiritual adviser, it is clear to me that the many diverse religions of the world are complimentary to each other and not in competition with each other. These are values upon which the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions is built upon.
Mutual respect and understanding across religious boundaries is a fundamental need of humanity today. The interfaith and inter-religious movements are at a critical juncture. How do we expand the circle of those engaged in this work, and how do we deepen the engagement of those already involved? These are the issues that the Parliament helps to address so we can make this world a safer and more just place for our children and grandchildren.