Self-Sacrifice and Family

A website on psychology and mental health based in the Phillippines says the following:

In my workshops on psychological well-being, there’s one question that keeps popping up: “Should I still support my family? I already feel drained and stressed but I don’t want to be a bad son/daughter.”  The question typically comes with frustration, resignation, and not a small amount of guilt. Being the sole breadwinner, or at least someone who single-handedly takes on major responsibilities at home, is paradoxically a position of power and weakness.

Now, before I start answering this question, let me say at the onset that I’ve been always impressed by Filipinos’ (and Asians’ in general) love of the family. I think one of the reasons Pinoys are resilient is because we know that no matter how hard life gets, there’s family to come home to. Those who live in individualist countries tend to suffer more anxiety and mental health problems, presumably because they’re cut off from a major support system. So the ability and willingness to sacrifice for family?  Definitely a value worth preserving.

But as with anything in life, excessive is not a good thing. Healthy families take care of the well-being of all individual members, not a select few. Society may pat you on the back for being the responsible and considerate one, but if you’re no longer able to live your life, you’re actually not being responsible or considerate —- to yourself. Family care needs to be balanced with self care. [source:]

I find a lot of things mistaken about the author’s assumptions here.

For one thing, being an individualist does not mean you don’t care for your loved ones. The author makes it sound like the choice is between either self-sacrifice or abandoning the ones you love or care about.

It’s not so. We have choices. We not only have choices about whom — or whether — to help, but under what circumstances. And we have choices about how to look at that help once we provide it.

For example, if a loved one becomes ill and you pick up the economic slack for that loved one, some would call it a sacrifice. But is it a sacrifice? Objectively speaking, a sacrifice is when you give up a greater good for a lesser good. The man or woman you love most in the world becomes ill, and you take care of him or her during this illness, including financially. Is that a sacrifice? Really? To most, it would seem like the most natural, even self-interested thing in the world.

In attempting to justify self-sacrifice, the author of the above passage tries to claim, “Sacrifice is good — but just don’t have too much of a good thing.” So what’s the formula? Forty-five days a year of self-sacrifice? Twenty hours a week? There’s no objective, clear or rational standard.

Whenever helping out another, there are basic questions you need to answer:

One, is the problem self-inflicted? Does it involve negligence on the part of the person in trouble? Or is the person innocent? A drug addict versus someone afflicted with cancer: Is your attitude about helping the same in each case?

Two: Are you able to provide the help? Not just willing — but able?

Lastly: How important is the person to you? Perhaps someone needs $1000 dollars. Perhaps you consider the reason a good one, and you have the money. But do you provide it merely because the person needs it? Or because the person is very important to you, has treated you well, has been there for you and you wish to do the same?

The mentality of “sacrifice is virtue” encourages us to obliterate all of these questions and standards — indeed, to feel guilty and evil merely for asking and considering them.

I define an individualist country or society as one where these sorts of questions and standards are the norm, not the unusual, daring, radical or rare exception. America certainly came closer to being such a society than any other in history, but even America did not quite make it. The human race has a long way to go before creating a world where rational and objective attitudes about ethics and helping become just as commonplace, and expected, as rational and objective attitudes about cars, computers, clean water, food production and everything else where we strive for rationality.

As it stands, authors like this one keep fostering and peddling the viewpoint that we must sacrifice and give in an indiscriminate, unthinking matter.

It never occurs to such people that in so doing, we not only do ourselves a disservice. We also do a disservice to those we value whom we really wish to help, whom we can help and who deserve our help.

The idea that we are all members of some kind of family (or sociopolitical) “tribe” in which the most able are by definition slaves to the less able fosters benefits for the less deserving at the expense of the deserving. Those who scream or imply, “I’m entitled to your help, simply because I need it” are louder than those who don’t feel entitled to your help, perhaps could use it, but would just as soon struggle on their own and independently as long as they possibly can.

Most importantly, it’s not service or giving — even rational giving — that makes a person good. What makes a person good is his or her willingness to create and produce. Helping and giving should be rational, but not obligatory. Helping is beside the point unless you have first created, produced, thought and maintained a life of self-responsibility.

It’s not helpers who make the world a better place, and it’s not helping that enables survival. It’s producing and creating. A truly individualist society is one where such a principle would be firmly in place in most people’s minds, as a self-evident truth.

What if someone cannot produce or create? What if they must rely on help? If they require help through no fault of their own, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s an individualist society based on creativity and productivity that they require. The hated “individualist societies” such as America are the only thing that make any sort of help or relief possible. If your heart bleeds for those in need, then it’s the rationally capable and productive — who require freedom — to whom you should pay homage.

Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.