I live towards the north of the island, and that statement is quite sedate… as a matter of fact, according to most persons, I live far! Most days, if we take the coast road home, I have ample time to look around as I unwind from my day. It was just yesterday as we drove from St Michael it dawned on me that many of the windows and doors to the sea were closed.
I was offered superb views of some galvanized structures and concrete walls in various hues and textures, most of which were pleasing to the eye. But the marked absence of, or the sporadic interjection of our enviable crystal waters, was profound. In many areas, I could not see past the fences lined with tall thick foliage, or I barely got a glimpse of a beach umbrella standing proudly on the sand.
My next thought was sobering. As a country, how much of our island have we given away to others, whether or not a pretty price was paid in return? As if my thinking could become more ominous, I reflected on how we, as human beings, act in a similar way.
In the name of altruism, we give ourselves away to those in our sphere of influence. Quite often, we ignore how tired we are and say ‘yes’ to additional piles of work or to that vacant post on a committee. Simply because there was no one else to fill the post, we were the selfless ones putting our hands up for the good of the institution.
Our children are our responsibility and so we must make sure that they are well and that their needs are met. We make contortionists look like amateurs the way we bend over backward to give our children so many of the things they want especially since we did not have those things. Certainly, the hardships that carved us into the outstanding men and women we are today are much too severe for our fragile offspring to endure.
Dare I transgress and accuse many women and men of giving into the whims and fancies of partners who are yet to utter a word of appreciation for the Herculean efforts made on a daily basis? In some households the partner who remains at home takes responsibility for the appearance and smooth running of the unit which, in itself, is a job. Years ago, I recall there was a study done on the actual tasks done by housewives and it was determined that their equivalent pay grade far exceeded that of top executives. That did cause a stir at the time, but we have lulled ourselves back into a state of thankless complacency.
If we adjust the strength of our microscope and take a closer, more honest look at our selflessness, the images on the slide are shocking. In truth and in fact, our selflessness really is selfishness. We give to those in our sphere of influence fragments of ourselves because we are not operating at full capacity. We shuffle the children off to be babysat by devices so we can catch a wink, just so that we can cope, should a major sibling scuffle arise.
We cheat our institutions by overextending ourselves but being present only in body and not in mind. Our creativity has evaporated to mere fumes, and there is little we can contribute to a robust discussion as our only thoughts are focused on getting home to get to bed. Sometimes, we make so many errors on the job that we might even be at risk of losing the said job, were it not for an understanding team leader or colleague.
We rob our friends as we become a shell of the vibrant and outgoing individuals we were. We are either too busy with work or with the children, to spend an evening with the ‘girls’ or with the ‘boys’. Our social circle contracts almost imperceptibly to a social dot, and we find ourselves wondering, ‘How did I arrive at this place, at this time in my life?’
How do we fix this problem? The answer, I believe, is truly paradoxical in its simplicity. In order to be selfless, we first need to be selfish. We need to take care of ourselves first before we can be in any position to take care of anyone. I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment when someone told me about what they have coined the ‘air hostess model’. In this model, I draw your attention to pre-flight safety instructions and we focus on the following paraphrased sentences. If, for any reason, there is a loss in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will fall from the compartment above you. Put your mask on first before dealing with others in your care. Wow. What an eye-opener!
When we are at our best, we can do so much for so many people. We are human beings and we will become tired. I believe our problem stems from the fact that we do not give ourselves enough time to recharge those proverbial batteries. We go like the Energizer® bunny expecting to operate in the same way as that cuddly battery-operated creature. Unfortunately, life is not so simple and so it is our responsibility to self and humanity to make sure that we are in good health.
Health, according to the World Health Organization, is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity but complete physical, mental, [spiritual] and social wellbeing. This is the goal to which we must aspire as individuals. Exercise; go for walks along the East Coast; pass through Oistins on a Friday night; buy an ice-cream once your doctor will agree; hang out with friends; learn a new skill; read a good book; find out what is new in the lives of your children; read the Bible and pray; buy something you have always wanted and use it instead of keeping it for a special occasion.
Don’t feel guilty about being selfish in order to be selfless!
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)