Violets are Blue, Roses are Red. These flowers are really for me, yes – that’s what I said!
So, Valentine’s Day has been and gone and many have enjoyed bunches of flowers that’ve been bought for them. Only they weren’t in fact bought for them. Their loved one actually bought them for themselves.
Eh? How’s that then?? How can buying flowers for someone else mean we’ve actually bought them for ourselves?!
Allow me to explain. We are never doing something for someone else, we are always doing it for ourselves, (I thought I’d cut to the chase fairly soon!) it’s just that a lot of the time, many people will benefit from it. Many people think the right thing to do is to always do things for others – to put their needs above theirs but in fact, that’s never the case.
We will always do what sits most emotionally comfortable with us at that time, compared with any other choice we might have. In other words, we always choose the option with the consequences that are easiest for us to bear emotionally, because we always behave in a way that is consistent with our emotional needs.
It’s all about doing what we do because it aligns with our values.
It’s not about you, it’s for me
Many might offer the argument that altruism is about helping others when there is nothing in it for themselves. If you believe altruism is alive and well, I invite you to write down the last thing you did for anybody that involved no thanks, appreciation, nice words or fuzzy feelings, increased self-respect, salving of conscience or avoidance of guilt, or any combination of these. In other words, the last totally altruistic act you performed with no payoff for you whatsoever. There is none and at this juncture, I always give the brilliant episode in Friends when Joey and Phoebe illustrate so well there is no such thing as a selfless good deed.
Martyrs die for their cause because by not doing so, they are going against their values. People put their lives on the line to diffuse roadside landmines and IEDs. Both are taking the easy way out. I’ll let that settle for a moment… They are taking the easy way out because they would rather die than live with the guilt they would feel had they allowed someone else to die in their stead, or having reneged on a religious belief, or because they are the best at what they do but chose that day not to put their life on the line to save others by diffusing life threatening devices. They are acting on their values when they make a decision to risk their life – it’s our values that dictate what is emotionally most easy for us. And in a sense therefore, we don’t admire heroes, we admire their values. And man, do we admire their consciously chosen set of values.
Are you conscious of what your values are? Would you put your life on the line for someone else? Let’s explore this with an example… Imagine you’re standing on the seafront, it’s a really stormy day - you’re admiring the waves and all of a sudden you turn around and see a 3-year-old child separated from its parents, tottering near the edge of the pier and it falls in. Now if you jump in and try and save the child you take the easy way out. If you stand on the pier and watch them drown you take the easy way out. Why?
Is it true that some people would jump in and help the child, and some others might say: ‘I’m not a strong swimmer’, ‘I’ve got kids of my own, I won’t jump in’. They might well go and get help, but the point is that both decisions are the easy way out for each person’s emotional needs. Emotional ease will be different for everyone because it will depend on your values. We had a Winning Edge facilitator who used to say if she was standing on the edge of the pier she’d be shouting: “Does anyone here have different values from me? Does anyone here have different values from me?”
It’s what you value
It’s quite something to digest that you’ve never taken anything but the easy way out ever, in your entire life, whatever you’ve done it’s always been the easy way out. The easy way out emotionally. On so many other levels it might not feel the easiest way out, but emotionally, it aligned with your values.
An example a Winning Edge participant once gave was that he now understood an occasion when his mother-in-law had taken the easy way out, even though it didn’t seem that way to him at the time. His 75-year-old mother-in-law had joined the family for a walking holiday and on one particular day, there had been the option to take an easier or harder route. The family had said they’d take the easier path to help Granny but Granny had insisted that they all take the more challenging route. The course participant now understood that emotionally at least, his mother-in-law had taken the easiest option - her values were challenge, personal growth and freedom and she had satisfied those by taking the walk which covered the rougher terrain.
Only 2-5% of the population have consciously chosen values. Many do not give much thought at all and if they are vaguely aware of their values, very often they’ve adopted their values from someone who didn’t give much thought to them either. It’s when we don’t know what our values are that the friction begins. We’re perhaps making choices which don’t ‘feel right’ and that’s when we need to give thought to whether our actions are clashing with values which are perhaps not consciously chosen. Again, an example of a lightbulb moment with a Winning Edge programme participant who we’ll call Laura. When we started talking about values and the choices we make, Laura realised that she had been working three jobs because she’d adopted her father’s value of hard work. Laura believed in hard work but recognised that by working three jobs at once, she was contradicting her strongly held value of family. By giving conscious thought to what her personal values were, Laura reassessed her lifestyle and post-course, gave up two of her jobs and built up her own business that she hadn’t had any time for, still enabling the much sought-after family time that was important to her.
Find a little grace
So, now you know why you do what you do, and know that you’ve never done anything for anyone else before, you can think back to that wedding you begrudgingly went to, resenting the weekly shlep to do the food shop with your partner, the incessant taxi runs for the kids - who did you do it for? Yes, you.
Now, what’s the benefit of thinking about things in this way? It’s knowing we don’t do anything for anyone else that isn’t also the most emotionally appealing option for us. You went to the wedding because you value the happy couple’s friendship or the relationship with your partner who really valued you being there. You go to the supermarket because you’d like a say in what you eat the next week/you want to ensure your partner doesn’t spend too much/doesn’t buy the same ole same ole etc. You run the kids around because you value the gains for them - the learning experience, physical activity, social aspect and, you do it because you love them! So, why be resentful, why sulk – do it all in good grace, enjoy it or don’t do it. It’s your choice.
Remember – we always do what suits us, we are all as humans inherently selfish but do remember to not always think of selfish in negative terms – because there are positive acts of selfishness which many many people can benefit from and that includes a bunch of flowers!
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