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The importance of being selfish, to some degree

Being personally successful increases your ability to help other people.

Posted 9 November 2017. Talk delivered 5 November 2017.

I regularly speak to groups of young people. One of my key points is the importance of focusing on your own success in life. Taking care of yourself is important to avoid being a burden to others. More importantly, the more successful you are, the more you can help other people.

I made this the theme of my 37th "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester.

You can read it below.

Thought for the week

I retired almost eight years ago. Since then, I spend most of my time helping other people. One way I do that is by giving talks to young people, as I did on Friday at two schools in Manchester.

Although I am very un-selfish, there is a paradox in my advice for many young people. I regularly find myself advising young people to be more selfish. Quite frankly, I tell them to pay more attention to their own future careers and to think about careers that will pay well.

The reason is that I meet many young people who are very charitably inclined. All they want to do is to work for a charity or a development organisation, so they can make the world a better place. Regardless of what this means for themselves.

I remind them that they can do far more for others if they themselves are rich, rather than being hard up. Also, a person near the top of an organisation can do far more for others than someone near the bottom can. Taking care of yourself first makes it easier to take care of others afterwards.

That is why the airline safety videos tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.

Over 2,000 years ago, a great Jewish scholar, Rabbi Hillel, put it far better than I can. His words are now in a part of the Talmud called the Mishnah.

He asked three questions.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?"

 

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