Looking after number one
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about neo-socialism and neo-capitalism, and this week I want to talk about neo-egoism. Now, I know it looks like I just add "neo" in front of words and make up new meanings, but this is not the case.
In a world that is rapidly changing, an existence where change is not only inevitable but happens at a frequency we are not used to, we are always upgrading our lifestyle, always upgrading the tools with which we confront the world, the tools which make our everyday existence in the modern world possible. We upgrade our computers every couple of years, we upgrade our car every couple of years, and let's face it, if you still use a cell phone that was manufactured five years ago you are not only regarded as retarded by society at large, but it will just not work. The networks are different, the technology is different, and the tools the people we want to connect to are different, it is a world of upgrade or perish.
If these upgrades (although personally I think some of them are downgrades, but this is a subject for another article about what living really is) it will be stupid of us thinking we can go on without upgrading our own psyche, without upgrading our system of beliefs, the way we see the world, the way we interact with what we hold dear and important to us.
If I would talk to a crowd of computer geeks, I would actually use the term egoism 2.0 instead of neo-egoism, but as I follow the ancient words of Virgil's Aeneid _ beware of geeks bearing gifts _ I will use the term neo, with is clear to us normal people. New. I am not saying better, just new.
And here comes my weekly new-ism, in the form of neo-egoism. The beauty of this term is that it takes something that is undoubtedly flawed _ egoism _ and turns it not only to a positive term but to something that infinitely improves our daily lives as people and as societies.
When we think about egoism the first phrase that jumps to my mind is "looking after number one", and I cannot think of a time I used that phrase in a positive way, which is why it feels strange for me to defend that idea, but feeling strange not only never stopped me from doing things but usually means I am on the right track to something good. But maybe that is just me...
I will start with a short example, and we will see how we proceed from there. When we sit in an airplane, we are subjected to the security films showing us how we are all going to crash and die, which in relation to airline food is not such a bad thing, but what caught my eye is the instructions to what to do when the oxygen masks are activated. The first thing they say is that parents travelling with infants have to avoid the natural instinct of putting the mask on the child first and apply the oxygen to themselves instead, before taking care of their child. It makes sense, as this way the caretaker is capable and can really take care of the wee ones. And it is also logical because the instinct does tell us to "save" the children first.
This applies also to our daily life and even the Buddha said that one should first take care of oneself so he can take care of others. A starving man is of very little use to society, at least as a caretaker to others.
Looking after number one is actually very good advice. Sorry, it is a very good first half of the advice I'm about to impart. Look after number one, but remember that the number one is just a part of the equation, and that it has no value on its own, but only in relation to other numbers in the equation. It is a closed system. Like the world, like society, like any human interaction we know and love (and even to the human interaction we really don't like that much, but are part of who we are).
Neo-egoism means that I do want to take care of myself first, and it is a good thing, but I do it as part of a holistic way of life, not forgetting that the life of others impact mine.
I can be nice to people if I want to because I am a nice person or because I understand that if I am nice to people, my life will be better, as chances are that they will be nice to me too in return, and even if that doesn't happen I will just be healthier because I am nice. My blood pressure will not rise, I will be more relaxed, and in general, life will be more fun.
I don't have children of my own at the moment (at least not ones I know of...) but I do hear a lot of neophyte parents telling me that they live for their children, that children become the centre of their world , so my whole argument about egoism as a good thing is bollocks. Usually all I have to do is ask them a simple question _ do you care so much about every child or just your own? The answer is obvious, and we go straight back to number one being the centre of the equation. My child is the centre of my world.
Neo-egoism works on a very practical level. If I make sure the people who work for me are treated well and are happy, my own private life will be better. If I make sure there is proper healthcare for everyone, the girl who makes my som tam will be healthy and my som tam will be healthy, and if she feels good, she will smile at me, and I will smile, and yes once again, my life will be better. (If you don't believe that just try to remember how small things like indigestion or even a boil on your foot can ruin your mood and make you a menace to goodwill and happiness in that day.)
Look after number one. Because number one is affecting all the other numbers and they effect it in return. A happy number one is the base of a happy society.
Suddenly, egoism, or at least neo-egoism is not selfish anymore. The opposite of it.
Boaz Zippor is an artist, writer, poet and rambling ranteur living in Bangkok.