Non sibi, sed toti

I’m fortunate that I rarely hear from the grammar police, but maybe I’ll hear from the Latin purists. The title translates to “Not for self, but for others”. (If the last word were “omnibus”, it could be considered “everyone”.)

I have yet to find a religion that preaches putting oneself above others. Most philosophers from Socrates through today opined that we exist to serve the greater good, and the greater good is to serve others. There is something to it; history has numerous accounts of great societies like the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire, and the city/states of ancient Greece crumbling and collapsing because the populace went the “Not for others, but for self” avenue. Life is precious and the self-preservation instinct imprinted itself into our genetic make up about four billion years ago. Because of that, we revere war heroes who sacrificed their lives to save fellow soldiers, and firefighters and police officers who died in the line of duty. A parent’s death while saving his or her child usually makes the national news. Altruism is noble indeed.

Putting others first is not easy. Many times, it is thankless and emotionally draining all the while requiring huge sacrifices of time and energy. Some of these people become grief counselors, others become ministers, still others firefighters, peace officers, medical professionals, teachers, and first responders. It takes a special kind of person to devote her or his life to helping others, especially when the other person is in dire need.

Most of us will face situations in our lives where we will have to make sacrifices for the sake of others. Parents do this routinely for their children. I was never fortunate enough to be a parent, but I have been around some incredible people raising children in difficult circumstances, yet the children are happy, well-loved, and well-adjusted. Time spent shuttling children to activities took precedence over time spent in badly needed “me” time. Money spent on activity fees and supplies was more important than money spent on entertainment. The great parents are the ones who make these sacrifices without the child knowing a sacrifice occurs. The truly great ones manage that along with helping others in need.

Aging parents are another challenge most of us will face. The difficulty is the sudden role reversal that occurs: the parent is the child and the child becomes the parent. Adding to the difficulty is the fact the parent realizes his or her independence is slipping away, certainly temporarily but possibly permanently. There is an old saying that goes to the effect of “After a taste of freedom, captivity is never the same”. Captivity exists either by a lack of mobility or from needing to move to a care facility because living independently is no longer safe. In some cases, an aging parent may experience mental decline. That is the hardest of the changes because that person is becoming someone else. All this is happening while the caretaker is trying to balance a home life and work demands. Strained relationships and hurt feelings are not uncommon. Someone may snap a pithy comment out of frustration, leave in a huff, or withdraw into a deep shell because of the pressures, and the others feel some pain. It becomes hard to remember that these sacrifices happen for love and of love, and that there is a greater good everyone is trying to achieve.

I went through caring for a terminally ill loved one, and I know others of you have, too. The only reason I made it through was because there were people willing to sacrifice their free time for us. Hospice workers and volunteers, friends and family, all were there at the time of our greatest need. I had to focus on ensuring Lucy was well-loved and well cared for in her time of need. It was the hardest thing I have ever done and I pray I never have to do that again, but I did it for her. The love and support from all of you helped in ways I will never be able to describe and can never adequately repay.

Unfortunately, we lose some of these great people along the way. Some are lost because they got hurt one too many times helping an ungrateful person, others because the stresses and strains of the sacrifices wear them down, and still others because they have nothing left to give. Each time we lose one, a bit of our society crumbles. We all feel the loss. I hope that the ones on the cusp of quitting reconsider. There will always be someone in need.

Thank you to all of you who put others first for you are the unsung heroes in our society! If you know anyone like that, please give that person some support. After all, they would do it for you.

1 Comment

Filed under philosophy, rebuilding

One Response to Non sibi, sed toti

  1. Anonymous

    Once again, Ken – your words are so meaningful. Thank you! Mary in Oregon

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