Never Think About Yourself?

UPDATE: Here’s the bag:

I was walking out of the grocery store, Wegman’s (yes, I’m happy to name and shame), the other day when I noticed a display of company branded reusable bags. I glanced over and stopped in my tracks. Were they serious with this bullshit? The bag proudly proclaimed: “Never think about yourself. Always think of others.” That’s some potentially deadly thinking right there. Never think about yourself? How are you supposed to help others if you fail to think about yourself? Unfortunately I didn’t think to take a picture of the bag. I will next week if it’s still there.

Does Wegman’s truly want us to never think about ourselves? So…what do I discard in my thinking? My hunger? My fatigue? My lack of funds? This statement suggests that by thinking about ourselves at all we’re being selfish and that’s terribly, horribly bad. And before anybody gets all huffy and accuses me of being a self-serving narcissist. No, I’m not saying never think of others. “Never think about others” is most emphatically NOT the opposite of saying that “never think about yourself” is a bad idea. None of this is a zero-sum game.

Okay…clears throat. Steps up on soapbox…lemme ‘splain…

You HAVE TO think about yourself. If you wish to take care of others, taking care of yourself first is the most important thing you can do! How the hell do you expect to take care of others, think about the welfare of others, if you are physically, financially, and emotionally drained? Because physically, financially, and emotionally drained is where you wind up when you never think about yourself. Physically, financially, and emotionally drained leads to, oh, I dunno, physical and mental health problems maybe? Homelessness perhaps? Then you become the one accepting charity rather than giving it. If we follow the Wegman’s advice we’ll all wind up broken in every way.

<steps down to lower level soapbox>

The idea that a grocery store presumes to tell me that I must never think about myself and only think about others is appalling. Grocery shopping does not involve military combat (at least most of the time. I am not able to comment on the uses of shopping carts as battering rams at this point). We are not in a life-or-death situation where laying down our own life for our fellows may become a necessary act. It’s frickin’ grocery shopping…even if I am tempted to use the cart as a battering ram.

This country is the most charitable nation in the world. Our levels of private giving amount to 1.44% of our total GDP. If you don’t believe me you can check for yourself here and here. Despite all of that, we are berated on a regular basis that we need to give more and more to others. Many high schools and colleges require their students put in a certain number of volunteer hours as a graduation requirement. Any idea what this mandatory volunteerism does to the levels of volunteering for the age group 22-35? If you guessed dropped like a rock, you’d be correct. They’re tired of being forced to volunteer and so when it’s no longer a requirement, they stop. Roughly 18.5% of 20-30 year olds volunteer. That number jumps to 29% for the over-35 group. By making volunteering a requirement it is now an order, not volunteering. And, contrary to the high school and college administrators, you are not creating some sort of life-long love of volunteering, you’ve created a group of people who will stop when they are no longer forced into it.

What those numbers also tell us is that while the recent college grads are likely tired of volunteering, or they’re trying to raise families, get a good start to their career, other things that take away from time spent volunteering, they tend to pick it back up once they are more stable. We are a volunteering and charitable nation. The most charitable country in the world. We will volunteer. Just stop forcing us to volunteer. Please.

So why do we get berated all the damn time about making sure we donate, volunteer, give time, think about…whatever? Yes, charities, by their very nature must almost continually ask for donations and help. But why is a company like Wegman’s telling us that we must “never think about ourselves” and “always think about others”?

I’m going to guess that whichever marketing genius came up with the bag that I saw and whichever VP gave the okay to make it, are thinking that they are showing that Wegman’s is doing its part to contribute to all that’s good and bright and light in the world. Instead, they come off as creepy and very authoritarian.

When volunteering becomes required, either as a high school graduation requirement or via guilt from a supermarket that chooses to admonish its customers, it ceases to be “volunteer” work. Volunteering means that you decide, and act based on your own decision, not because you were told to do something. If you do something because you were told to or were guilted into saying yes, you have stopped volunteering and are simply following orders. That’s when I call it mandatory volunteerism.

Volunteering and helping others should come from a place of peace and desire to help others. Not because you are afraid you won’t graduate or feel guilty or pressured. And if you never think about yourself, eventually you will be in no shape to volunteer for anything. Please do think about yourself. Make sure you are healthy both physically and mentally. That way you can give your all to whatever cause you choose.

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21 Replies to “Never Think About Yourself?”

  1. Back in my salad days as a military officer, I frequently opened my staff meetings by informing my junior officers of the short-term duties they had just volunteered for during the colonel’s staff meeting, the one that I had just attended. I always had a ready list of candidates so I could snatch up all the cushy duties for my guys before the word could trickle down to other less deserving folk. One year I volunteered a lieutenant to be the chauffeur and escort for the San Antonio Fiesta Queen and Princesses, duties that consumed an entire week of “volunteering.” After that experience, none of my lieutenants ever complained about my high-handed methods. They were all hoping to hit the jackpot.

  2. Thank you. I spent several years in a high school where I called the “volunteering “ the students had to do involuntary servitude. This didn’t make me popular, but at least I could look at myself in the mirror without cringing.

  3. That kind of “volunteering” is common in Marxist and Fascist societies. People in the cities are volun-told to “help” gather the harvest.

  4. Mandatory volunteering = Voluntold

    A lot of that high school ‘volunteering’ involves pet projects of their teachers. The kids make a cynical choice to put that volunteer time where it will do DOUBLE good – both clear the requirement, and suck up to teacher.


  5. My wife is a charitable person and volunteers with great frequency. When she needs assistance, I am mandated to help. I refer to it as “voluntold.”

  6. I shop at Wegmans and my first thought when reading this was that the bag meant … put on a mask … for others. I do like the store but those bags are virtue signaling in the first place. Long before this year it was known that reusable grocery bags are geeky but somehow, although we now have plexiglas and constant cleaning, etc. those bags didn’t go away. Absolute theater, not reality.

  7. I’ve had a lifetime of nannies telling me how to color, play nice, share, brush my teeth, and not steal. This was to prepare me for adult life where laws will be enforced and those issues can make or break me.

    So I see these new nannies preparing us for new laws that will enforce and regulate my adult life. I’ve witnessed it in Germany, where children play within rules, remain quiet, and then turn rat fink and report anyone they see who broke a rule. Germany is a society where social rules for you are mandated early. Sorry, no innovations, creativity or maverick thinking is permitted. “That’s not done!” is their mantra. Leave it to the experts. Do what they say.

    This is not good. Corporations need to sell us their products and services. Then shut the hell up about how we live our freedoms.

  8. “Do good by doing well,” B. Franklin. Right on the money. BTW, I am a refugee from Wegman’s.

  9. That’s when I call it mandatory volunteerism.
    We called it “voluntold”.

    Also, since the basis of this virtue is Christian morality, I will note that (limited by the virtue of humility and the prohibition against idolatry) the Golden Rule as it’s expressed in Scripture is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you never love yourself, you can’t love others.

    1. Yes voluntold; I’ve used that before as well. And yes to the “Love your neighbor as yourself.” People misinterpret that to mean “don’t be a narcissist” rather than take care of yourself as well as you take care of your neighbors.

    1. Yeah, well, we all accept some issues in some places. I don’t have to buy the bag, and they still have the best groceries. I’m not going to 9th street, circling the block 15 times for parking, nor am I going to CostCo every week. 😉

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