Is it just me, or does it seem as if we are in an age where being selfish is not only not a bad thing, but something which is being positively encouraged? Are we firmly now in 'the era of me' where putting the needs of others first is seen as old-fashioned at best and misguided at worst? Where the idea of sacrifice is met with incomprehension rather than praise?
I ask this because, flicking through a magazine the other day, I was struck by how many of the articles centred on the words 'you' and 'your'. Headlines like 'Maximise Your Potential', 'Your Best Tips for a Great Life!' plus articles such as 'Learning to Say No!', 'Who's Holding You Down?' and 'Achieving Your Dreams'.
The advice given in pretty much all the articles seemed to suggest that when we achieve our dreams/goals/targets and maximise our potential, everything will be right with the world and with those around us. The 'Me' era
Now while there's nothing wrong with looking after oneself (I am a great advocate of the view that you should 'wear your oxygen mask' first so you can be strong enough to take care of others) or with having dreams, when your dream comes at someone else's expense, is it really worth having?
I heard on the radio today that scientists have found a way to create a baby in vitro so that it has three parents. Why would a child need three parents, you may ask? The idea behind the research was not to relieve tired mothers by creating another source of childcare, but to screen out hereditary diseases that a potential parent would not wish to pass on to their offspring.
While this leap in technology may be the answer to the dreams of people who would otherwise remain childless, is fulfilling their dream going to be at the expense of a child who has to contend with having three biological parents? On one hand, requiring guarantees of zero risk in anything would mean an end to innovation and entrepreneurialism. But, without knowing the impact of this level of genetic modification on those born through this procedure, is the gratification to those who would benefit worth the risk to the child?
It does make you wonder. Having several parental figures is one thing, particularly in our age of broken marriages, step-parents and blended families. However, being the genetic product of three people who might presumably have equal rights or access to a child may not be so easy to deal with, raising the question of how quickly societal attitudes, and even laws, can keep abreast of technological advances.
Reading a news article online about the tragic story of a woman who died after slipping and falling off the side of a mountain she was attempting to climb, leaving behind three young children, it was interesting to see how the number of commentators who applauded her for dying in pursuit of her dream far outnumbered those who condemned her as selfish and irresponsible. Whether right or wrong, in this era of me, parents chase their dreams, leaving their offspring to deal with the consequences; partners chase their dreams, leaving their spouses literally holding the baby; and everybody chases the lottery, the ultimate opportunity to realise dreams without having to earn them. 'The rise of selfishness'
The increase in the selfishness quotient of society has been noted and documented by commentators for decades. 20-odd years ago, in his book 'The Rise of Selfishness in America', James Lincoln Collier explored how, within 50 years, a prudish, hardworking, God-fearing country like America became "a society of hedonists and narcissists addicted to drugs, alcohol, television, sports, vacations, gossip, fast cars, and slow work" (in no particular order).
Writing at the time, Collier attributed the triumph of the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll ethic in part to the prosperity that followed World War II. He also blamed 'television, the human-potential movement, and the sapping of American morale in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate'.
Ironically, in today's world, where we are connected by an incredible array of technological gadgets and the World Wide Web, our connections to and care for each other seem to be falling by the wayside. As we punch out our text messages and tap on our screens, how often do we lift our heads from our devices to really connect with each other? How present are we in the company of others when we are listening out for the familiar ping that tells us that we have a new message? Looking after Number 1
The seeds of the current global economic crisis were rooted in the selfish behaviour of a minority that was looking out for its own interests. The high-risk activities on the part of some in the financial services community intent on getting rich fast has led to years of misery and has seen companies collapse, jobs lost and families in despair.
And has anything changed? It would seem not, judging by a new report that reveals that the pay packages of FTSE 100 chief executives increased by an average of 10% last year, despite a 5% fall in the value of the shares in the index. While at the lower end of the corporate totem pole, pay increases are held back, salary cuts made and jobs slashed, the study revealed that FTSE 100 bosses were last year paid an average of £4.8 million. While hard-pressed workers are warned against any expectations of salary increases in the present economic climate, it appears that the average remuneration for FTSE bosses has now risen from about £1 million to nearly £5 million since 1998. It's hard to argue that society is not growing more selfish.
As a coach, my job is to help people articulate their dreams and take concrete action towards realising those dreams. Often, in order to do that, one does have to strip away all the expectations that others have of you and for you, in order to see what you really want for yourself.
The trick is finding a balance in what works for you but doesn't crush someone else. Putting on your oxygen mask first only makes sense when the person you are taking care of isn't gasping their last breath. Because, as many will attest, achieving your dreams becomes meaningless when there's no-one to share that achievement with.