Social researchers believe they have discovered an important difference about social attitudes in Asian and Western societies.
According to their studies, in Asian societies individuals are more likely to make decisions that benefit society. In Western societies, individuals are more likely to make decisions that benefit the individual.
Are Westerners more selfish than Asians? More determined to express and maintain their individuality?
Or are we fundamentally the same, motivated by the same hierarchy of needs and similar motives? Is it simply that Asians are more likely than Westerners to want to be seen to make decisions that benefit society, but in reality make decisions that benefit themselves?
Could it be that Westerners are equally motivated to make decisions that benefit society?
Those of us who were raised in a Western household heard the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” at an early age. The phrase dates back to ancient Greece, reappearing throughout Western history. It turns up in fables. Benjamin Franklin wrote it into Poor Richard’s Almanack.
God’s name in the phrase suggests it’s also in the Bible, but it isn’t. Polls show that 75% of Americans agree with the phrase, rising to 81% amongst Christians.
The phrase is often cited to justify actions that are self-serving, even selfish. That misses the point entirely. It’s not about looking after yourself first. It’s about the need to do SOMETHING. It’s about hard work being rewarded.
There are plenty of phrases on this theme in the Bible.
“He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgement.” Proverbs 12:11
“Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labour.” Proverbs 12:24
“The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” Proverbs 13:4
But this isn’t what we hear when we hear “God helps those who help themselves.” What we hear is “help yourself”. We hear “take”. We hear “get what you can”. We hear “do what’s right for you”.
Some of us seem to want the rewards without the toil. Maximum return, minimum effort. Instant gratification.
We don’t seem to want to do anything that won’t improve our own position.
We seem to live in a galaxy of our own creation in which we are the sun around which the known world revolves.
Is this a Western disease? Or is it global? Could it be that the conclusions of the sociology researchers are wrong? Are we all living lives guided by a me manifesto?
Or is there hope? Is there charity in all of us? Regard for others? A sense of welfare? Are we really living lives guided by a we manifesto?
I’d like to think that the latter is true. As self-obsessed as we can sometimes be, we humans have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to help others less fortunate than us.
We are generous with our time and our knowledge. We volunteer. We donate.
Kanye West notwithstanding, we aren’t self-obsessed. We are a we species.