Attention: COVID-19 has significantly affected our normal operations. Read more.

If I Am Only for Myself

by | Dec 30, 2016 | Voices | 0 comments

An African story tells of a man who was invited to a banquet where each person was asked to bring a jug of wine. The jug of wine would be added to a large bowl of wine and shared by guests. The man realized that if he were to bring water in his jug and add water to the bowl, the difference might go unnoticed. The man brought his jug and poured water into the bowl. When he went to get his share of the wine, he discovered that everyone else had brought water too.

This African story illustrates what’s sometimes called the “tragedy of the commons.” The tragedy of the commons involves a common land for grazing being destroyed by people allowing their animals to take more than a fair share. “Looking out for number one” creates a loss for all in some situations.

Much of our society appears to be operating on a faith that “looking out for number one” will result in the well-being of all. But the drive toward power and profit and resulting inability to trust others leave many people questioning the value their lives and relationships, according to clinical psychologist Michael Lerner. And as a result, many search for meaningful purpose and solidarity in religions. What principles might encourage wholesome purposes and relationships?

Hillel the Elder frames the situation this way, “If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself what am I?” Humanists see that “Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals” and realize that “Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.” Encouraging our society to consider people and the planet rather than just profits and power may not always seem realistic. But realistically, as the “tragedy of the commons” shows, our survival depends on respectful relationships among people and with the planet. We need to grow from “greed is good” to considering the common good.

Featured image via

Related Posts

Making Connections After Elections

Making Connections After Elections

I’ve seen the pain, worry, and discouragement on many faces following this year’s election. This year’s election has brought a laser focus to problems facing people, the planet, and our democratic systems.

If I Were Speaking at the Reason Rally

If I Were Speaking at the Reason Rally

I will only be one of many helpers on the ground at the Reason Rally in Washington, DC. But if I had been among the honored few given the opportunity to speak to the thinkers assembled before the Lincoln Memorial, I would have given the following speech…

We’re All in This Together

We’re All in This Together

News media attempt to focus attention on certain elections by treating the elections as a game and by spreading the latest chat worthy gossip about candidates. And yet elections are more than a game…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest