“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone is arguing over where they’re going to sit” ~David Suzuki
In the crashing plane of an unhealthy culture, healthy people place the oxygen mask on themselves first.
The Oxygen Mask is a metaphor that represents health: healthy mind, healthy body, healthy soul. The crashing plane is a metaphor that represents an unhealthy, unsustainable culture.
Oxygen is life, literally. Metaphorically, oxygen represents health. Figuratively, it represents freedom. And becoming healthy and free is the fastest way to reach the point where you can distinguish invalid human opinion from valid Universal Law. You must be capable of this distinction before you can decide what to do about the crashing plane.
But first, oxygen. First, health. First, freedom. First, self-empowerment. These are paramount. Without these there is nothing.
So, imagine culture is a crashing airplane. We are all on this plane, and the oxygen masks have just been released. What do you do first? Do you put the mask on your daughter, your son, your husband or wife, the autistic kid sitting next to you? No! You put the mask on yourself first. Why? Because in order to be there for others you must be alive, awake and aware. In order to be there for others, you must have oxygen in your lungs.
You cannot know if the guy two seats away has the courage or the wherewithal to do what needs to be done. And even if you did know, you can’t rely on him. The only person you can control is you. You, and only you, are the one who must make a critical decision. It will be a decision that may or may not sit right with your fellow passengers, but it is a decision that you must make in order to right the plane.
Some people will tell you the plane is just fine, that it’s not crashing. Some people will tell you the oxygen masks are just scare-tactics used by conspiracy theorists and will slough it off as paranoia, while ordering another drink from the stewardess. That’s just fine, let them talk, let them get drunk, let them ignore the masks. When they pass out at least they’ll be out of your way, so you can save them. You put the oxygen mask on before those less capable, after all. And they are clearly not capable.
The Virtue of Selfishness: Figure out what you love and let it kill you:
“Meaning and morality of One’s life come from within oneself. Healthy, strong individuals seek self-expansion by experimenting and by living dangerously. Life consists of an infinite number of possibilities and the healthy person explores as many of them as possible. Religions that teach pity, self-contempt, humility, self-restraint and guilt are incorrect. The good life is ever changing, challenging, devoid of regret, intense, creative and risky.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Putting the oxygen mask on yourself first is the virtue of selfishness. This isn’t a license to be a self-centered egotistical asshole, mind you. Not at all. It’s a license to be healthy and free. It’s a license to love yourself, to heal yourself and to forgive yourself so that you can be the kind of person who can love, heal and forgive others.
Once you’ve figured out how to love, how to heal and how to forgive yourself, you free yourself up to figure out what you love to do and what you want to do with your time. Maybe you’ll discover that you don’t have what it takes to right the plane. That’s okay. At least now you know. At least you’re not ignorant to the fact that the plane is crashing. At least now you can figure out what you want to do with the precious little time that you have.
But before you can learn any of that, you need oxygen. You need health. You need freedom. So, you must give into the virtue of selfishness and put the oxygen mask on yourself before attempting to help anyone else with their mask. It’s simple logic: You must be breathing, healthy and free in order to keep those less capable breathing, healthy and free.
You are going to die, so get busy living:
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~Steve Jobs
Here’s the thing: Whether your culture is a crashing plane or not, it’s still wise to put the oxygen mask on. Because, although the crashing plane of culture is correctable, the crashing plane of your life is not. You are going to die. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But someday you will be pushing up daisies along with every other human being who has ever existed.
You have from this day until the day you die to live the life you want to live. So, you might as well put the oxygen mask on. You might as well make it a healthy life. You might as well be free. You had an eternity before you existed to do nothing. You’ll have an eternity after you exist to do nothing. Now is your time to do something. Putting the oxygen mask on yourself is the first step toward doing something with your life other than just waiting to die or waiting until the plane crashes.
Life is amazing. Life is full of adventure. Don’t waste it. Don’t wait. Day one, or one day? There is no promise of tomorrow. You will be dead soon, so just get started on living. Put the oxygen mask on yourself –stat! Get out there and make your life happen on purpose, with purpose. Only you can.
Helping others with their mask:
“For thousands hacking at the branches there is one striking the root.”~Henry David Thoreau
Here’s the thing: The crashing plane of culture cannot right itself. As Tom Morello said, “The system cannot be fixed by the system.” Most of the people on the crashing plane are walking, talking, pissing, shitting aspects of the unhealthy system. They don’t even know that they don’t know that the plane is crashing. They don’t even know that they don’t know that they are unhealthy. To the extent that they do know, they are under the delusion that the plane will somehow right itself, or that the system will somehow fix itself, or that someone else will somehow save them.
Most people on that plane are going to be “hacking at the branches.” Most people will be so culturally conditioned, so brainwashed by the system, that they cannot even understand the possibility of “striking the root.” Their cognitive dissonance will almost always “save” them from the discomfort of knowing that being healthy, being free, and possibly righting the plane is their responsibility.
Much oxygen is needed. Luckily, everyone has a mask. Unluckily, most don’t know how to apply it.
In order to become the kind of person who is capable of “striking the root,” you must be able to distinguish healthy from unhealthy. You must be able to distinguish invalid human opinion from valid Universal Law. This will require putting the oxygen mask on yourself and then also learning from others who have done the same. Most of all, it will require learning how to question to the nth degree, how to take things into skeptical consideration, and how to “entertain a thought without accepting it” (Aristotle).
Furthermore, it will require you teaching others how to put the oxygen mask of health, freedom and self-empowerment on for themselves. We are social creatures, after all. We need each other. And the greater number of people who are alive, awake, and aware of the fact that the plane is crashing, the better. The more healthy, free, self-empowered individuals working on the problem, the better. The more people attempting to right the plane, the better.
As the great Étienne de La Boétie said, “There are always a few, better endowed than others, who feel the weight of the yoke and cannot restrain themselves from attempting to shake it off: these are the men who never become tamed under subjection and who always cannot prevent themselves from peering about for their natural privileges and from remembering their ancestors and their former ways. These are in fact the men who, possessed of clear minds and far-sighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them, behind and before, and even recall the things of the past in order to judge those of the future, and compare both with their present condition. These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by study and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions, no matter how well disguised.”
This article Please Put on Your Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others by Gary Z McGee originally appeared on The Mind Unleashed.