I didn’t deliberately search for material to address the potential ‘philosophical debate’ that came up in the last post, but my lecturer recently posted an article to our class group. It was titled “Want to Change the World? Be More Selfish” with a thumbnail of Donna and Tom’s famous Treat Yo Self line from Parks & Recreation. It was basically screaming my name.
In Aaron Maniam’s [super legit public servant, teacher, polymath… seriously look him up] Leadership in a Complex World class, we often discussed the tensions faced by leaders who are trying to drive social change – be it deciding the RIGHT thing to do, the GOOD thing to do, balancing between civil liberties and social contracts, or managing complexity. Bottom line: when leaders embark on social change projects, there are bound to face antagonising forces, ideologies or effects from the intended ones. In fact, if you’re not facing any resistance, there’s a chance that your endeavour might not be as significant as it could be (I’ve since learnt to embrace curveballs).
One debate that I’ve been trying to grapple with for quite a while now is the tension between doing something for others and doing what makes yourself feel good.
Have you ever heard anyone scoff at others who do volunteer work to ‘make themselves feel good’? I admit that I feel a little guilty every time someone passes a remark like that, because honestly I love the time that I spent with youths during Trybe programmes, and the Tuesday evenings with the Connect Tuition kids. I guess most of us have always viewed self-interests and others’ needs on opposite ends of the spectrum; that somehow one dilutes the spirit of the other. However, the article above offers an alternative view – a simple, yet convincing argument.
Based on the premise that helping others and serving yourself are not on the same spectrum but different scales entirely, the author uses a 2×2 quadrant to derive four outcomes instead of two:
Since self-interest and other-interest are no longer seen as mutually exclusive (why have I never thought of this before), the possibility of working on projects that can generate positive change for others WHILE fulfilling your own higher-order needs for actualisation becomes entirely possible! Besides, being able to work on good projects that feed your own soul also ensures that you don’t burn out, allowing you to make a bigger difference in the long run.
I guess another takeaway is that there’s no “right” thing to do for everyone, so we shouldn’t chase the same things that everyone is striving to do, nor should we chastise others who pursue the things they love? Just find something you love, and jump in with both feet!
To quote the author:
“Treat yo self to a meaningful career. The rest, and the big numbers, will follow.”