“Putting Others Before Self”: A Cliché, Not a Standard

My recent article on the lost virtue of manners resulted in a lot of responses. The overwhelming majority were positive. A particularly insightful reader said this:

At the base of any political system is the issue of, “Are we individuals and if so, do we have rights? Or are we simply merged into a group or state with no individuality of our own?”

To the degree that people accept the Left wing attack on individualism, I think that they also, as a derivative, neglect manners.

After all, what’s the point of treating someone else as an individual, potentially worthy of your acknowledgement, that is, politeness, if there is no such thing as an individual?

I could not agree more. Those who respect others respect themselves. Those who respect themselves, as individuals, by definition respect individuality in others. Without respect for individuality and humanity in others, there will be no manners.

And yes, the political point is well-taken. You would never have authoritarian governments (religious or secular) in a society where people respect individuality and therefore respect themselves. That’s why people were notoriously rude in Soviet Russia, the perfect collectivist state; and that’s why as America has become less free and more collectivist, manners have gone by the wayside. It’s no accident.

Manners are for people who are, among other things, in a good mood. If you have no concept of rational self-interest or individualism, and if you live every moment of your life in a state of resigned self-sacrifice for the sake of unappreciative or unknowing others … well, you’ll write something empty and frankly moronic like the following:

I enjoyed hearing about the subject matter in your column In the April 6th edition of the Coast Press.  I was prompted to respond because two points in your writing struck me as disappointing.  To me, they pointed out exactly what’s wrong with our society as a whole.

The paragraph that starts, “on the surface…”  Part of your statement there said, “strangers don’t matter.”  But strangers do matter.  Especially, when we are talking about good manners.  How we initially address or make contact with someone when we first meet them or encounter them, sometimes, can make all the difference.  Whether what follows is a good exchange or an uncomfortable or even, confrontational one, can influence us for the rest of our lives.

Your other comment that, “Manners must stem initially, from a sense of self-interest and self-preservation”… again, it’s not about the “me” it’s about the “you”.  I have often said, if we would all just think about others before ourselves, the world would be a much better place.  I’m sticking with that theory because that’s the world I’d like to live in.

What kind of person cares about others? Certainly not somebody who’s selfless. To value anything – including others – implies a love of life. You cannot love life without loving yourself. It’s impossible to divorce the two.

The kind of person who cares nothing for him- or herself will have nothing of worth to offer others. The kind of person who sacrifices for others above self will be resentful, tired or deflated. That’s probably the kind of person who wrote this letter, at least if she lives by what she says.

It’s so easy to spout tired, stale clichés, such as, “If we would all just think about others before ourselves, the world would be a much better place.” Wow; to think that anyone actually believes such nonsense, much less takes the time to write it out as something profound or original! No wonder the world is such a mess.

I want to live in a world with self-responsible, self-interested, life-loving people. Such people not only have a lot to offer themselves; they have a lot to offer me. They’re not offering it for me in particular, but I benefit from the fact that they choose – at a minimum – to be self-responsible and not self-negligent; and I benefit if they choose to selfishly pursue their dreams, because if their dreams involve a cure for cancer, a luxurious or comforting new innovation, a great new idea, a fabulous movie, television show, novel or meal, or just about anything at all of value, they have contributed to my well-being as much as their own. At the very least, they have left me alone, which is a lot more than I can say for those who spout do-gooding and interfering in the lives of others as the primary purpose of life.

Actually, I want nothing to do with people who only think about others before themselves. If they have no value for their own lives, for their own integrity, for their own wants and desires, then – at a minimum – they are excruciatingly boring; and, in the worst case, they’ll be highly depraved, because the most depraved people on the planet are those who do not care for themselves, and only care to claim for others. As a therapist, I can tell you from repeated experiences that those who don’t value themselves are the most likely to succumb to self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, and so forth; only once they choose to love life and respect self will they start to reform and heal.

Have you heard of Hitler? He said the self must be sacrificed to the collective. This means putting others before yourself. Those who agreed are the ones who supported him, in the beginning.

Stalin? He endorsed the ultimate ideology of selflessness, and in the process slaughtered more millions than Hitler, all in the name of the social good, rationalized as “putting others before self.”

Mother Teresa? She provided minimal, temporary comfort to the suffering so they could live in a tiny bit less misery; but give me the self-interested, ambitious, greedy entrepreneurs who lift the standard of living and in the process, because of their self-interest, bring billions out of poverty into a glorious new normal. Those suffering people will continue to suffer with or without Mother Teresa; it’s the ambitious drive of entrepreneurial, greedy money makers that makes the world flourish, survive and expand. An American Revolution, or a capitalist revolution, would do more to lift the spirits and bodies of the suffering than 100 million Mother Teresas ever could.

Consider terrorists and criminals. They generally claim to care about society, whether it takes the form of mysticism or secular collectivism. Muslims kill for their idea of self-sacrifice (for the sake of Allah), just as Hitler marched the Jews into ovens for his version of sacrifice (for the German race). White supremacists (the KKK) sacrifice blacks in the name of collective well-being, just like black or non-white supremacists (Black Lives Matter) do the opposite for the very same reason. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrifice, to paraphrase Ayn Rand. It’s remarkable we go on at all, with all the platitudes about self-sacrifice being equivalent to “kindness” as expressed in the self-righteous moralistic piety of this unthinking, unoriginal reader.  It’s the rationally self-interested, the lovers of life, the holders of values and the people who want to experience life for their own sake – these are the ones who matter most to me.

Manners do not arise from a regard for others. They arise from a regard for life. Regard for life starts, at the core, with a love and appreciation for one’s own life. If you’re psychologically and intellectually vapid enough to think you can value others with little or no regard for yourself, that strangers matter just as much as loved ones who have earned the title of loved one, then you’re the kind of person from whom I will run for my life. Don’t bother to read my columns, if that’s the kind of person you are. You do nothing for me, you add nothing to my own life and probably not to many others; and rest assured that none of my ideas or thinking offer any hope for you. It might not be kind of me to say this, but it’s thoroughly honest and true.

I value people based not merely on the fact that they breathe or exist, but on what they bring to me, in terms of their personalities, interests and their own values. I expect others to do the same.

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