Most of us instinctively look out for ourselves, first and foremost. We may consider others in many circumstances, particularly our loved ones, and to a lesser extent, our friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and work mates. However, when we face the choice between putting others before ourselves, their wants and needs before ours, it can be tough to decide what to do.
In a dramatic end to the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix on the weekend, Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber was leading his teammate Sebastian Vettel out of the last pit stop. Despite team orders to maintain their positions, Vettel disobeyed and overtook his teammate to take a podium victory and sent professional and water cooler commentators in a frenzy. Some thought that Vettel was in the right, demonstrating his hunger and determination for another World Championship and racing right until the end despite his bosses’ orders. Others were outraged for Webber, saying that he had lost out in an unfair fight, just because he obeyed team orders.
This made me think about the situations we often find ourselves in, where we face the choice between doing “what’s right” or “what we want”. When is it acceptable to put your own wants and desires above everyone else’s, or above the good of the team?
The reality is that we probably put others before ourselves on many occasions without consciously thinking about it. We forgo holidays to spend money on our children, we do the dutiful thing and attend obligatory family events even if we would prefer to go to the beach with our friends, we go along to our partner’s work Christmas party when we can’t stand their weird colleagues, we listen reluctantly to our friends moan about how their newborn keeps them up or how the latest man has dumped them, or we let our flat mate watch the latest episode of The Biggest Loser when we would much rather watch Downton Abbey.
Perhaps we instinctively want to keep the peace with the people around us, or perhaps it’s social conditioning to be polite and to not cause a scene by going along with what would be most socially acceptable. If we were to make the selfish choices and always put ourselves first, we would probably quickly find ourselves out of friends. It’s difficult to be successful in life without a support network of friends and family, and putting them second to yourself can only be done so many times before you alienate them.
So when is it OK to put yourself first? When no one else is impacted, or when they’re unlikely to care about your actions? Choosing to spend a weekend with a good book is fine if you’re not missing your best friend’s birthday party. Spending money on that awesome pair of boots is all good as long as it’s not compromising your ability to pay your bills or feed your family.
Perhaps there’s not really much of a choice to be made at all because your gut feeling will tell you when you’re right or wrong.
What do you think? When is it alright to be selfish and when should we put others first?