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The modern mantra of self-care is noble in that teaches respect for ourselves and encourages mental health. However, that can only be true to the point where it touches the rights of other people.
Self-care cannot be used as a justification for the abuse or domination of others.
It must also be balanced against our social duties, which we have a responsibility to fulfil, despite them being an inconvenience, or even a small risk to ourselves. To wear masks, for instance, or to get vaccinated, in the current context.
We do owe ourselves a responsibility of self-care. We are glorious expressions of our ancestors and unique combinations of talents and abilities that can inspire, spread love and improve the lives of those around us. That is worth respecting in ourselves.
However, self-respect is not a licence to abandon our roles as a members of families, of communities and of an evolving society.
There’s a point where self-care, and self-love become simple selfishness.
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It’s hard to measure the narcissism levels of a society, but anecdotally, one senses a growth of self-centredness in the popular discourse, and in some of our personal interactions.
Someone might justify their decision to neglect their parenting responsibilities by saying, “it’s me time.” It might also be irresponsibility time!
“I owe it to myself.” “I’m worth it.” “Soft life”… These terms of self-celebration are sometimes used to give a glamourous gloss to what might be called laziness in a bygone era.
Then there is the faux-psychology language of healing and self-care. Where it’s justified, all well and good. We all deserve mental health. But where such terms are used to justify ego-centric behaviour, it’s not okay!
Feeding into this is the cult of “making your dreams come true”; that we each have a right to personal happiness.
Perhaps we do have a right to opportunities that allow us to reach our full potential as human beings. But the corollary is that we will then apply our abilities and our positions of privilege to assist others and build a better world.
Our personal happiness is not more important than everybody else’s. “Be happy” is the kind of thing a parent tells their child, because they want the best for them. It cannot be the ultimate driving philosophy for adult life.
If we were all living life simply to be happy in the limited sense of self-gratification, no roads would get built, no universities, no libraries and museums, no hospitals… indeed no nations.
But indeed, we have build nations. And those nations must be founded and developed on principles of love and care for other people, and respect for their needs and interests. And on solidarity with the struggles of other nations.
There are morals, ethics and principles to this thing called life. What keeps society going is empathy, compassion, and that deeply untrendy concept these days: self-sacrifice.
This was little appetite for self-sacrifice in the justification of Miss Universe entrant Lalela Mswane for attending the recent pageant in Israel, notorious for its atrocities against the Palestinian people. “Imagine I hadn’t gone? It wouldn’t serve anyone.”
The answer here might be that a boycott is not meant to serve any one person. In this case, serves to draw attention to injustice and to avoid legitimising a regime that is invading, occupying and oppressing the people of a neighbouring state. If one refuses to boycott, that is an endorsement of that regime.
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Sometimes, people choose to sacrifice their personal dreams on the altar of broader interests. Like the man who gives up his dream of being a rapper and gets a job to support his children. Or the mother who forgoes a social life because she needs to pay school fees. Or the generations of sports people who refused to compete against apartheid South Africa, so they could help to defeat that immoral system.
That takes an element of selflessness. But of course, selflessness is not very fashionable at the moment.
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