The log in my eye

The routine safety presentation before a flight takes off includes a fascinating segment on the emergency protocol. Before you help someone else, the flight attendants say, you must ensure that you have your own safety gear on. You don't help someone next to you with their oxygen mask until you've strapped yours on first, even if that person is a child. My first thought encountering this rule was, "How selfish!" Surely, if some helpless individual happened to be sitting next to me, I should help them first, then see about myself later, right? Was that not the moral thing to do?

Only years after having this initial thought did the pin drop. Recently, my sister and I were getting ready for a job we were doing together. She had taken out a denim shirt that she wanted to wear but changed her mind because she didn't have time to iron it. As I had gotten ready first, I offered to iron it for her. She took me up on my offer and proceeded to go and take a bath. As usual, I grossly underestimated the task I'd waltzed into. She took her bath, changed into a different outfit and was ready to go, all while I was still battling the creased garment. Without missing a beat, she said, "I'm leaving you," which led me to scramble for the pesky bits and pieces one has to gather before leaving the house. A belt, my glasses, the other earring, my shoes. My stupid shoes!

After some time on the road, my wonderful sister cut through the taut atmosphere with a simple question, "How come I always leave before you even when you are ready first? What were you still doing?" I wanted to say, "Ironing your stupid shirt, you ungrateful psycho!" but a quick replay of events showed me the error in my logic.

First, when I offered to help, I wasn't actually ready myself. I still needed to put on my earrings, wear a belt and shoes and pack my bag. Second, she never asked me to iron her shirt. She'd already made up her mind to change her outfit before I budged in and offered. Lastly, and most importantly, my offer to help wasn't pure at all.

In a moment of raw honesty, I realised that ironing her shirt had simply been a means to make myself feel like I was the best sister of all time, not a genuine attempt at generosity. I erroneously reasoned that sacrificing my own time and readiness for her sake would make her see how much I cared for her and she'd want to return the favour. So, not only was her assertion in leaving me hurtful, but I also felt incredibly resentful that she didn't want to extend the same courtesy. So resentful, in fact, that I was moved to angry tears. I made a vow to myself that very day, I wouldn't extend my hand to help unless I was content and ready in my own right. That's when the pin dropped.

How on earth did I expect to be truly helpful when I had neglected to help myself? How could I get her ready on time when I wasn't even close to achieving the same? How could I expect to see the speck in her eye when I hadn't completely removed the giant log wedged in mine? My ridiculous pride was so obvious then, I would have burst out laughing had my anger dissipated.

Helping, in the pure sense of the word, means to be of benefit to someone. Rarely can one be of use if they bring something that hampers the progress they are trying to make. In my case, my lack of preparedness meant that even if I'd managed to get the shirt done on time, I would still slow us down by trying to finish getting dressed at the last minute. However, this raises a serious moral dilemma for me.

Is true generosity only possible for those who have an excess of what is required? How come some people are generous even when they are on the brink of poverty? For instance, Indonesia, a third-world country, ranked first in generosity according to the 2021 World Giving Index report, beating superpowers like the USA (19th) and England (26th). The report states that religion had a lot to do with it, though there were other factors at play. Still, my question remains. Do the Indonesians who are so quick to volunteer and help out feel like they are in a good enough position to help properly, or do they just do it out of a strong sense of duty?

My theory is that the logs in my eye are too many to remove completely before trying to help another. The best I can do is remove the specific log that hinders progress in a specific situation, then I can see clearly to remove the speck in my sister's eye in that specific situation. But that's just my theory.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Drop me a message in the message box on the contact page and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Till next time...

3 October 2022