Haven’t we all heard it before? “If you don’t look out for you, nobody else will” or “You got to look out for number one!” Certainly there is some truth and validity to those statements. For instance: If “I” don’t put gas in my car, nobody else is going to do it for me and I will eventually end up on the side of some roadway; If “I” don’t take care of my mortgage payment each month, no one else will either and soon enough – I won’t have a house. If I need a job then “I” need to do the foot work to find one…it isn’t someone else’s responsibility; and so on. The idea that each individual has a certain obligation and responsibility to themselves and their community to take care of “their own matters” is a valid one.
That being said however…a life that is solely directed by the principle of “Looking out for number one” where nothing and nobody else matters, except in how they benefit that individual ~ that is where SO MUCH is lost. For example: Some people live by this mentality because they are just purely self-centered individuals; Some live this way, because their life has thus far given them little, in the way of family and friends that were supportive or demonstrated “selflessness” in their own lives; and some live like this because of living a life of addiction, which in turn controlled every aspect of their life – quite literally dictating that being under the influence was the ONLY priority and whoever got hurt or neglected in meeting the need of that addiction…that was just a price that had to be paid. No matter what the reason, when life is all about the “individual” where nothing and no one else really matters, that very same life will become smaller and smaller until eventually there isn’t anything left in it. Our lives are like a fire in that, the only way for a fire to continue burning is to feed it with oxygen and flammable materials. If that fire isn’t fed it will become smaller and eventually will go out.
What would happen if we lived in a world where everyone only “Looked out for Number One”? In our history would it have really made any difference? Well let’s look and see about that:
We will begin December 11, 1934 a man by the name of William Griffith Wilson, (Bill Wilson), was admitted to Towns Hospital in New York City under the care of Dr. William D. Silkworth a third time for the treatment of his chronic alcoholism. Bill experienced an extreme moment of despair and reported saying, “I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let Him show Himself!” In that moment Bill reported experiencing a release from the compulsion to drink. Bill could have easily left that day and gone on to live his life, but instead he felt compelled to carry the message of hope and freedom to other alcoholics like himself. Bill Wilson went on to become the co-founder of a fellowship called Alcoholics Anonymous, through which millions of people have found and continue to find freedom and life again. But what if Bill had of just looked out for himself and gone back to his profession, leaving the task of helping other alcoholics to someone else? (Information from Wikipedia)
In 1952 an American medical researcher and virologist, Jonas Salk discovered and developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine. Until 1955, when the Salk vaccine was introduced, polio was considered the most frightening public health problem of the post-war United States. Jonas’ discovery in and of its self is HUGE, but here is the “little known story”…this vaccine had to be tested on healthy people. You know there always has to be those “first people”. Now Jonas had done all the work, he didn’t have to do what he did next…in fact his wife didn’t either. You see – Jonas Salk injected himself first with the vaccine (having no way of knowing what it would do), then his wife volunteered to take it. But the kicker is that Jonas and his wife decided to allow their 3 young children to be among the first to receive this medication – not knowing what might happen. In fact prior to their decision a different vaccine had resulted in the deaths of 6 children and crippling 3. But because of their incredible selflessness – you won’t meet someone today who had his vaccine, who is suffering from this terrible illness. What if Jonas would have instead done something else, rather than pursue and exercise personal risk? (Information from Wikipedia)
December 1, 1955, a 42 year old black female by the name of Rosa Parks, was on a bus in Montgomery, AL when the bus driver told her to give up her seat to a white man, to which she refused. At this time in history Ms. Parks certainly could have no way of knowing for certain what would happen to her for saying “no”, which could realistically have ranged from being put out of the bus all together, to being physically hurt or worse. She could have easily done what she was told and made her life go on its course that day, but Ms Parks, who was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), believed that this was bigger than just herself and for her own reasons, she had had enough and said, “No”. Rosa Parks’ stand became an important cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement. She ultimately organized with civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who went on to lead and be the face of the Civil Rights Movement. (Resource: Wikipedia)…But what would have happened if on that day, Rosa Parks had opted to simply get out of her seat and not take a personal risk? (Information from Wikipedia)
In December 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957. His efforts led to the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other nonviolent means. From the beginning, it would have been the easier path for Martin Luther King and his wife to have taken the threats made against them and their children and gone about just living their life. However, they felt lead and purposed to bringing about change that would live for generations to come and affect millions upon millions of people worldwide. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. (Resource: Wikipedia)…What would have happened and where would our society be if Martin Luther King Jr. would have opted to simply live a non-confrontational and quiet life? (Information from Wikipedia)
Then July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, walked on the moon while Michael Collins, remained in orbit aboard he Command Module.I mean think about that for a minute ~ Until then, NO ONE ON THE PLANET had ever accomplished this. Can you imagine what it would have been like to load up in this rocket, laying back facing the sky and preparing yourself to be shot BEYOND the limits of our atmosphere and go to the moon? (THE MOON….that until that point, NO HUMAN BEING had ever actually been to.) I mean, they had no way of knowing that creepy space creatures weren’t really up there! No way of knowing if they would get their safely and no way of knowing that they would ever make it back home…TO EARTH. Can you imagine stepping out onto the surface of the moon and looking into the sky where the moon should be and seeing our PLANET?…Where EVERYONE ELSE is? It took incredible bravery and personal risk on each of their parts. As a result of their bravery, space exploration took off, creating the areas in which NASA developed technologies that benefit us today: Health and Medicine, Transportation, Public Safety, Consumer Goods, Environmental and Agricultural Resources, Computer Technology and Industrial Productivity. But what if back then, those guys would have said, “Nope, we are happy here on earth and we aren’t going to take that risk”? What then? Where would we be and what would it be like for us now if they had of just “looked out for number one then”?
The question I will end with is this: What about you and I? Each and every day we are given opportunities to make a difference. Sometimes the difference we can make will be apparent to us and other times, we will be unable to fully grasp how our actions or lack of them will affect others. But when our moment comes, what will our decision be? Will we say to ourselves, “I don’t feel like doing this right now” or “I will do that later” or “I gotta take care of my own business – they have to take care of their own”? OR… Will we seize upon those opportunities that life allows us and say, “I don’t feel like it, but I’m going to do it anyway” or “I see what needs to be done and there is no time better than now to do it” or “I see someone in need and I am going to help them – my stuff will fall into place if I do the next right thing now”. It is all a choice – what will yours be?
© Rebecca Balko 2012-2014