|Photo by Juliana Coutinho|
A friend once ranted to me that there’s nothing else to see in EDSA but billboards that feed people with vanity. You can turn heads with your white skin, slim figure, or cool clothes. Every man will fall for your straight and silky hair. Smell like this actress or that model, and hopefully you’ll channel them too.
All this vanity in the media makes people self-centered, which is not healthy. (Some people will argue that Filipinos are all vain to begin with, but whether or not that is so, I say people can always teach themselves to be less self-centered.)
Now, why do we need to be less self-centered? Because it leads to genuine happiness. When you forget your own needs in the process of serving your family or friends; when you let nothing faze you because you know it’s not all up to you; when you understand that you are never “the best” all by your own merits—then you leave no room for puffing yourself up like a peacock only to discover later on that marvelous feathers don’t stay marvelous for long.
So—how to achieve this? I’ve drawn up a list of five concrete things that can help in the Self-Centeredness Detox Department. I’m sure there are more such ways, but if you don’t know where to begin, this list should be a good starting point. Hope it helps!
1. Take responsibility for someone or something at home. Whether it’s your little sister or the electricity bill, when you assume the responsibility for someone or something at home, you learn not to take things for granted. You realize that your home is a nice place to return to everyday because somebody—whether it’s your mom, the boarding house lady, or the house helper—makes sure it’s clean and orderly, its utilities are functioning, there is food in the ref, and everyone is safe. When you contribute little but important things in the home, you grow more appreciative of them. You also never forget that you couldn’t possibly have accomplished anything in your professional life if you didn’t have the help of those who keep your home in running order.
2. Take public transport. Commuting by private car does pose its own challenges, but they’re nothing like the things you encounter when commuting by public transport. Lining up, squeezing in, taking on the heat, the dust, the smoke, throwing oneself at a passing jeep/bus (a desperate measure, but never suicidal), bearing with drivers that don’t respect pedestrian rights, and navigating non-existent sidewalks help one to understand the sufferings of everyday commuters.
And when you see those things through your own experience, you realize that the difficulties you encounter are not something unique to you: thousands of people immerse in them everyday—and get this: without losing their temper! When you learn to embrace the difficulties of commuting with a sporting attitude and a smile, then you’d have learned to forget yourself a little more.
3. Visit the poor or the sick. And you thought you had problems! Visiting the poor or the sick gives one a practical lesson on the human spirit. Now is the time to stop viewing the poor as a “burden” to society. When you visit them and ask them about their daily life, you see that they aren’t very different from you at all: they’re also busy eking out a living, cleaning their homes, raising their kids, bringing them to school, figuring out ways to stretch the week’s budget and to feed the family. They work so hard (and their life is so hard), but they still seem happy; they take care of the little kids (even the ones who aren’t theirs) and the elderly with much love.
The sick, on the other hand, have a different kind of struggle. They help one realize that health is truly a gift, but more importantly that having lost one’s good health does not lessen one’s humanity. The sick still need to be loved, still want to be able to do things, and still yearn for the company of their family and friends like the rest of us.
When you meet these kinds of people and see how wonderfully they carry on despite the difficulties, you realize that there are so many things to be thankful for, that inner strength and hope are truly amazing, and that it is not by any merit of your own that you are so blessed.
4. Raise funds for a cause you believe in. This is pretty obvious. When you raise funds, you go out of your comfort zone to ask people for help. And when it’s for a cause you believe in (as opposed to personal fundraising) somehow, you feel bolder, because you know that it’s not for you at all. At the start it looks daunting, but as you go along, you remember more people to ask, old friends, colleagues… and it turns out that they are generous.
Success in fundraising is not all up to you; it may be requiring you to reach out, but it’s the others who have to respond. In other words, in the grand scheme of raising funds, you’re just an instrument that helps move people into action. When you achieve a fundraising goal, you realize it’s because many have responded with a generous yes, and not because you sweated blood for it.
5. Teach. They don’t say teaching is a vocation for nothing. Sure, teaching may involve having a roomful of kids hanging on to your every word. But a true teacher does not bask in authority. Instead she serves each student and makes an effort to deliver the lesson such that every one of her students learns it. A teacher’s achievements lie in her students’ success.
Come to think of it, you don’t even need to be a licensed teacher. Teach your friends, your friends’ children, your cousins, officemates… anybody! You can teach anything, from origami to crochet, literary criticism, poetry, performance, languages, sciences, math—anything you’re good at, anything with value, anything that helps a person grow. Bottom line: the rule you must live by is service. When you can put your efforts, talents, and expertise in helping others, then you not only grow in selflessness, but also you help make the world better than you found it—which is what life is about, after all.