From a young age we are taught that giving to others is greater than receiving, and that doing kind deeds for those in need is an important thing — helping to provide food and shelter for those for whom circumstances have taken them away, for example. That is why in some way the next lesson from the Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint bottle might seem confusing at first.
“Unless constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, absolute [sic] nothing can help me!”
Shouldn’t we always be trying to help others, one might think. At birth, there is virtually nothing a person can do for themselves. As we get older, we start learning skills and are able to do more and more — I am acutely aware of this reality every time I try to help my son Chaim with something and he insists on doing it himself. It’s rather touching to watch him grow up with that in mind.
I do not think that a person should hesitate to try to help another person in need when possible, but think of the vast difference between two people passing by a person suffering some medical issue — one of whom has gone to medical school, and one who has not. The person who eventually goes on to be a doctor is a lot more useful to the person with the medical need than the person who has not gone to medical school.
There are many other ways that this can be the case — that working on perfecting yourself first should come before reaching out and helping others. If someone is in need of guidance, for example, and they reach out to you and begin to ramble on, you might lose your patience with them and not want to help them. If you had first made an effort to work on patience and worked on being disciplined in it, that would not be a problem.
Nothing can help you unless you first work on yourself. The best kind of help that we can ultimately offer to another person is the guidance that they need to be constructive-selfish on their own. After all, as fantastic as it is to read books to someone, it is even greater to teach them how to read so that they can do it on their own.