I had heard a story from my philosopher-mentor Dr. Amiya Baran Saha long ago. It is a simple story but it jolted me out of one of social conditioning that was restraining me. Story goes like this:
There was child returning home after having completed his education. On reaching home, he was eager to share his knowledge with his father. His father was going out, and asked the child to wait till he returns.
Child waited and waited; waited without taking food as pride and excitement of his learning was overwhelming. But, days later when father returned, the child was so weak that he could not narrate anything to his father.
Advice from father, in this context, was ‘taking care of oneself is the primary duty and responsibility’.
Brought up in a world, selflessness is hailed as a virtue and selfishness is denounced as a evil, this story jolted me out into a new realization.
Taking care of oneself is a basic instinct for any living being. No one need to teach a new born baby that it needs to take care of its own interest. It cries when it is hungry, it cries when it is hurt, …. well, that is all it can do at that stage. Wherewithal to take care of its interest is beyond the child but demanding is within its control. It does what it can.
Man is a living being which adapts itself to the environment around it, and society forms the major part of the environment. It amounts to accepting there are many others like us and we need to balance our interest with that of others to live in harmony. All social institutions are build on this balancing act.
When the self interest is continuously suppressed, it becomes a case of hypocrisy, putting up a happy face burning deep within. Promoting self interest to the exclusion of everything else leads to creating more problems than one can manage, and thereby self defeating. It is a case of dynamic balancing of personal and political space , rather than accepting one to the exclusion of the other.
It’s elementary, my dear Watson