Many years ago, I started my career as a High School history teacher. Some of my students protested that teaching history, whether American or European, had no relevance to life in modern times. The following discussion centers on teaching profoundly relevant to our lives today. However, this discussion is rooted in ancient wisdom.
There are always people who put the needs and well-being of other people before their own needs. They do this regardless of the cost to themselves. Ultimately, this behavior can lead to catastrophic illness and death. Following is a quote that asks people to examine themselves:
Rabbi Hillel lived during the last century Before the Common Era (BCE).
If I am not for myself, who is for me?
When I am for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
The teaching presents a hierarchy of responsibility in which our commitment to ourselves needs to be primary, although not singular.
- If I am not for myself, who is for me?
Self-care is vitally important, but we must recognize the need for compassion and action care for others. We can only be effective if we are caring for ourselves. No one else will do it for us if we do not care for ourselves. That is why we must be for ourselves, or who will do so?
Caring for oneself includes physically, emotionally, and spiritually and taking action to achieve personal goals and aspirations.
2. When I am for myself, what am I?
The teaching just quoted is coming to deal with the tensions between self and non-self. Every person struggles daily with balancing what one does for oneself and what one expects from others.
What value does the person have if one focuses only on oneself to the exclusion of others? To be completely selfish is to lose touch with the rest of the world and life.
3. If not, now when?
Do not worry about tomorrow’s trouble, for you do not know what the day may bring. Tomorrow may come, and you will be no more, so you will have worried about a world that is not yours!
Each moment in our lives is unique. Even though the opportunity to do something may seem to return the next day, the context is always different.
We don’t know what each hour and day will bring. We must respond to each moment as if it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as in, ‘If not now,’ when will you have another chance?
All of us are members of a community. That community includes our family, neighbors, city, county, state, and nation. All of us are responsible for ourselves as well as others.