In the event an emergency, please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. If you’ve flown anytime in the last twenty plus years; you’ve invariably come across some variation of this saying. The first time I heard it, it sounded selfish and counter-intuitive. Especially so because the accompanying media vignette always portrays a mother helping herself before her young, helpless child.
Blasphemy! I am yet to be a parent but it seemed like an outlandish concept even to me. Isn’t the natural instinct of a good parent to selflessly aid their child before themselves even when faced with imminent danger? Do we not herald our fallen heroes with medals of valor for their unbridled courage and bravery when putting themselves in the line of fire while answering the call of duty? Is Reddit not obsessed with /r/dadreflexes?
In fact, Richard Dawkins even outlines; in the painfully difficult to read, The Selfish Gene, the biological underpinnings that explain this altruistic phenomenon of parent saving child. Why then do aviation guidelines ask us to do the contrary? The answer of course is that you’ll be of no help to anyone if you’re dead or incapacitated. By helping yourself first and foremost, you give yourself the best opportunity to help the most number of people. Think of this as a global optimization.
In relationships, as in life, the same rules apply. I’ve come to understand that you cannot be in a happy relationship until you are happy by yourself. Your significant other cannot be the sole source of your happiness. That is too huge of a burden for anyone to carry for any realistically long timeframe. It works in small bursts and it works in exceptional cases when support is needed but it cannot be the status quo of the relationship. I’ve always believed that the best relationships are those when two independent lives come together and create a new, shared life.
This all sounds great in theory but it requires an immense amount of trust between two people. And trust is hard. You put your heart, and your life, in someone’s hand and you ask them to be careful. There’s nothing more you can do. If you’re lucky, you’ll have found someone judicious and thoughtful. But even then, the twists and turns of life can lead you down unexpected paths with undesired outcomes and people sometimes, unintentionally, act recklessly when faced with the inevitable pressures of life.
Remember, put on your oxygen mask before helping others. You could save a life… probably your own.