Sunday, 19 February 2012

Tough Love

I feel compelled to write this article about loving oneself because recently I have been wrestling with individuals close to me about the need to look after themselves and not only support their extended families.  The economic situation across the world has worsened in recent years and this has impacted adversely on people’s purchasing power.  People are often more resilient than they are credited for but many of us feel the need to save our people.

The particular friend that inspired this article has never taken a holiday, has not been to the dentist in over 5 years, needs to have his eyes examined and frankly he needs some new attire.  He claims he cannot afford these things but he works tirelessly and spends no money on himself and apparently not on his wife and children either.

Many individuals who were raised in developing countries are socialised to believe that they are investments of their families and their sole purpose is to return the favour of being born.  While we do owe it to our parents to ensure that they are comfortable in their old age, that responsibility often extends to siblings and relatives who expect us to show eternal gratitude for any favours they would have done for us when we were young.  They gloat on the misconception that we live in the land of milk and honey;  we then nurture that idea and the perception seemingly becomes reality.  The fact that life may be hard for those in the so called Third World does not mean that we have it easy in the West.  With adulthood comes responsibility.  There is an African proverb that states: You must judge a man by the work of his hands.   How then shall we judge those who are able to work but don’t?

We often have to juggle our commitments and share our time and other resources between our birth family and the family we chose to create in our adult life.  We don’t always get it right.  Loving oneself does not assume that you do not love others.  There is enough love to go around but if we fail to get the balance right we can find ourselves on a stressful, slippery slope. 

Why is it so difficult for you to love yourself?  The poor will always be with you (The Bible – Mark 14:7) and when you experience a moment of weakness, chances are they will still be poor and unable to offer you any meaningful support.  Most of us would have experienced or witnessed situations where one individual constantly bends backwards to help another but the moment that help is not forthcoming the individual becomes the worst thing on earth.  You may help someone 99 times but their short memory will only allow them to remember the one time that you could not oblige.    

How can you consistently support others at the expense of yourself and your family unit?  It is difficult, if not impossible to climb with a load on your back.   You cannot climb a bid of success with your hands tied up (African Proverb). It is more sensible to climb and position yourself in a better place and then help others to climb up.  Everyone cannot climb up together; you will never get to the top if you are always carrying people. If you need all that company you’re better off going for a stroll and forgetting about your goal.   The argument can be made – why the top?  Is it not the journey that’s important?  To that I answer, yes it is, but no one enjoys a long, arduous journey. 

Light your candle for others to see but once they can see they should be encouraged to light their own candles. Life is about giving and taking, not just giving! There will always be people who moan at life yet if you were to give them a solid start they would squander the opportunity and be back at the church door in no time.   

Some individuals can find work but they refuse to do so if it’s not a job they like.  The French say: Un sou est un sou (a cent is a cent – money is money)!  Chances are you not in your ideal job but you persevere.  There is a Jamaican proverb that says big blanket makes a man sleep late.  It means that those who have easy access to ‘luxury’ can afford to be lazy.  Are you providing a big blanket?

I must make an exception for people who are disabled, weak, ill or elderly.  Many disabled people lead fulfilling productive lives and this must be encouraged.  However, many societies fail to support and create opportunities for people with disability and this reduces their chances to reach their full potential.  If your family includes individuals in these categories you have no choice but to help (always seeking to empower) them.  My challenge is when able-bodied people, fully capable of working and contributing to their own survival, chose to depend on handouts.  Such people are often very good at emotional blackmail, expert at painting a picture that will deny you of the ability to sleep.  They bear tidings of the doom and gloom that is bound to happen if you do not put your hand into your pocket and save the world.  I am not impressed by these people.  I recall I gave my mother some money some time ago.  She used the entire sum to purchase a single dress which she wore once.  I could have bought three similar dresses with that amount of money and certainly I wouldn’t be wearing them only once.  Why do we think that these people are poor?

I can recall some male friends telling me that the wife of one of their very affluent friends was “a bitch”.  I later understood why they felt that way – the woman was trying to secure her family’s future and the friends wanted her husband to sponsor their adventures because he apparently had money.  His wife sensibly controlled the purse strings and for that reason she was hated.  How do we know that their family wasn’t experiencing financial challenges considering their lifestyle and aspirations?  Why do we assume that they are rich because on the surface it looks that way?  Do we know what goes on behind closed doors?  Chances are my friends were causing stress in that relationship because of their dependency attitudes.  Why should this man pay for their drinking sessions and their holidays?  Are they his children?

People will tug at your heartstrings if they feel they can get away with it.  If you were not there they would still survive.  Providing handouts does not empower people unless it helps them to get into the boat and start fishing for themselves.  There is a Spanish proverb:  El que no trabaje, que no coma (no bees, no honey; no work no money).  An eagle will feed its young for some time but after a while she will push the eaglet out of the nest and it must learn to fend for itself for its survival.  This is tough love but we must do it if we are to end this cycle of dependency.  There is no shortage of people who mistake your meekness for weakness and being overly “kind” does not earn you respect. Instead of providing handouts help people to find work or to explore their enterprise skills.  If you get it right they might just be there to help you should the tables turn.  Surely this is more desirable than nurturing the handout culture. Help the man climbing a hill, not the one standing below it (Finnish proverb).

How is this principle of loving oneself applied to the workplace?  Do you take on responsibilities that might be well or even better handled by others?  Do you needlessly take home volumes of work?  What do you have to prove?  If you are building a business you may find yourself working long hours to achieve success.  After all that hard work, do take some of the rewards for yourself.  No one is interested in a partner, mother or father who spends no quality time with the family. If you are generally busy, time is something that you make, not something that you have.  If you chose to have a family, you must make time for them. 

Is it tough to love yourself?  Try tough love!  You may be liberated by the experience.

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