Egoism, Altruism, And Responsibility

Original date of writing: May 8th 2020

A woman carrying a large bundle of branches and twigs on her head

Between egoism and altruism, there’s a fine line called responsibility. Some people care too much about themselves and hurt others in the process. Others care too much about people around them and forget themselves in the process.

In between those two there’s a perfect middle ground that allows you to take care of yourself without hurting others. And to take care of others without losing yourself. And that middle ground is all about responsibility.

Bear with me for a moment. Because this one is gonna be tough to explain in a way that doesn’t accidentally make me look like a bitch.

Ah well, you’re allowed to think that anyway. Let’s dive in.

Do no harm, including to yourself

So this is something I struggled with personally for a long time.

I had two conflicting voices within me. One that didn’t want to harm or bother anyone, and one that didn’t want to compromise or put up an act around anyone else anymore.

I’m a profound believer in never consciously doing anything that is meant to harm another living being. Ever.

But I took it too far. And I took it to the point of trying to avoid hurting people accidentally too. And I can tell you that very damn well nearly broke my spirit.

Turns out, you can’t avoid that shit. It’s gonna happen. You’re gonna hurt people.

But you know what? As long as you don’t do it willingly, consciously, purposefully, you’re good.

Nevertheless, there’s one giant caveat there: only as long as you’re able to take responsibility for your actions.

And it’s not just that a lot of people need a lesson in how not to accidentally hurt people (you’d be amazed how many there are).

Responsibility is a thing I’ve found profoundly lacking in huge chunks of the internet community, and outside of there too.

The missing link

I’ve come to see that responsibility is that one last missing link, the final puzzle piece I needed to stitch together those two voices.

It means being able to be yourself, follow your own beliefs. Just act like the person you are, but be responsible for every action you take.

If you want to shower for three hours, I’m going to say it’s your responsibility to make up for all that water in another environmentally friendly way.

If your friend asks your opinion on her artwork and you don’t like it, you have the responsibility to be both honest and kind.

And that’s a tough line to walk, and I’ll admit that – especially for me as someone with autism – it’s hard to find the right words.

But I used to totally freak out and freeze if I couldn’t find the right words or if I knew I’d have to say something that friend didn’t want to hear. I put all the stress and burden on myself, and virtually tiptoed around my opinion to my friend when he or she wanted feedback. And you’ll probably agree with me that feedback is worthless if it’s fake.

How responsibility frees you from the mental burden

Sometimes I don’t have the words. Sometimes I have to be honest and say something that might not be nice to hear for the other person.

And sometimes (well, frequently) I fuck up and say something with the best intentions but end up hurting someone because I overlooked something.

It used to send me into panic mode right away, but nowadays… I’ll just take responsibility.

Yes, I’m sorry I hurt you. I truly didn’t mean to. But I nevertheless acknowledge that what I said or did still caused you pain.

And that’s taking responsibility: communicating about it, and trying your best to mitigate the situation.

No expectations beyond responsibility

And that’s truly all that can be expected of me, or anyone else for that matter.

We have a shared responsibility towards each other to be as nice as we can, but also to be honest. That’s the only way we can depend upon each other.

Don’t have the energy to support your sobbing friend because you just got a fine in the mail you can’t possibly pay and you’re just spent from your day at work? That’s fair!

You don’t owe it to anyone to sacrifice yourself.

Yes, you’re friends. Yes, you can expect support from each other.

But no, you can’t be at each other’s beck and call all fucking day.

Don’t let guilt take over

I totally understand the feeling of guilt when you have to tell your friend that you’re really sorry but you really can’t be there for them right now, but please, take care of yourself.

You’re gonna be of no use to anyone if you burn yourself out because you feel like you owe people anything else but responsibility.

Because responsibility doesn’t mean breaking yourself down for someone else. On the contrary, it means taking care of yourself, and doing what you can do for the people around you.

And you just can’t do more than you can do.

Responsibility means honesty, with others and yourself

Responsibility means being honest and open when you can’t be there for someone for whatever reason.

Even if you just want to watch a movie because you haven’t had an evening off all week, that’s fine.

Some would say that your friends are more important than a movie. But if that movie is necessary for your mental health, it is not less important than your friends.

Above all, please don’t overestimate your capacities. Don’t underestimate the necessity of rest and relaxation.

Think you can shoulder it without damaging yourself? Sure, go ahead and pick up your phone and support your friend.

If you can’t muster the energy, don’t ignore your friend or block their calls. Send them a message explaining the situation and why you need some time alone.

You have that right. You have the right to take proper care of yourself.

Your friend has the right to be disappointed, but you couldn’t have done it differently. You don’t owe them more than you can do.

They can be sad, but they shouldn’t expect you to be there any fucking time of day.

You don’t owe anybody anything except your responsibility. And that is being honest, owning up to it, and accepting the consequences of your actions. It means mitigating or repairing things wherever possible, but only wherever possible.

Responsibility for the consequences of your own actions

Especially that last thing appears to be difficult for many people, most often for internet bullies.

They’ll throw out nasty insults onto the web without a second thought. However, when the person they insulted ends up committing suicide over the barrage of nasty comments on their well-intended video (and yes, that fucking happens, a lot), those bullies should be prepared to accept those consequences.

And then, when you see them saying things like “they should’ve had thicker skin”, or “you shouldn’t put yourself out on the internet if you can’t take this”?

That’s them not accepting responsibility. That’s them basically saying “I should be able to do whatever the fuck I want and whatever happens because of my actions is their fault and not mine”.

And that’s just as idiotic as purposefully hitting someone with your car head-on and saying they shouldn’t be out on the road if they didn’t want to get hit.

Or worse: like raping someone and then saying that the victim shouldn’t have worn those clothes or send that flirty message (but that’s a subject for another time).

It’s just them showing that they have no responsibility, and more importantly no self-control. Everything adverse that happens is not their fault in their minds.

But that’s not how life works. On the contrary, the world is not a place to run around in and do whatever the fuck you want with impunity, because the world simply doesn’t revolve around you.

It revolves around all of us – including animals and plants and everything else living in this world, by the way.

Responsibility leads to freedom and peace of mind

But if you’re able to take responsibility, and you’re not out to harm or hurt anyone, go ahead, do whatever the fuck you want. Take care of your needs.

If it means you’re never able to support your friends and they find you a bad friend and they leave, that’s fine. Because they have the right to leave. They don’t owe it to you to stay if their needs exceed your capacity.

Likewise, you have the responsibility to accept that you’re not a good friend for that particular person.

You don’t owe everybody the best friend in the world.

The only thing you owe them is doing the best you realistically can, and taking responsibility for your limitations, your shortcomings, and your actions.

Don’t be mad that someone else doesn’t like the amount of time or energy you have available for them. Instead, talk about it. See what you can do about it. Be nice, but be honest, to both yourself and the other person.

You might just be mismatched based on both your needs and capacities. And that’s fine. Because you can’t please everyone. You can’t click with everyone.

All you can do is be decent, honest, and take responsibility.

And as long as you take responsibility for your actions, accept the consequences, and do what’s in your power to prevent harm to yourself and others, you’re good to go.

That way you can walk the fine line between excessive egoism and excessive altruism.

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