The Downing Street Project / network

When you work in social/ ethical/ charitable industries, its very easy to meet amazing people who do incredible altruistic deeds for the rest of the world with no thought about themselves. But recently I have come across two other breeds of people that work in these fields too.

The first is the person who will work towards their cause tirelessly and at the expense of everything else. As a result their health suffers, their relationships break up, their families break down, all because they are single minded in reaching their goal. The difference is that because their goal is a noble, selfless one, they rarely get pulled up on it. After all they are not being selfish. They aren't striving for something for themselves. In fact the opposite is true they are being totally selfless. But is this right? Is it fair to expect others to suffer for your cause just because you want to? Is it fair for you to suffer youself? I have a member of staff working for me who falls into this catagory. Let's call her Jessie. Jess is an incredible worker and beleives 100% in what we are trying to do. She will put in the hours and do other people's work when they clearly don't have her dedication, because she doesn't want the company to suffer. The result? Her health has deteriorated, she looks terrible, and her personal life has suffered terribly because of her dedication to the company. This can't be right. To work so hard for a beleif that is so right must not be at the expense of everything else in your life. It is important not to lose yourself in something you beleive in too much. It is important to set boundaries, to maintain your self respect and self love. It is important because no good cause is worth the destruction of yourself or what you hold dear..

The second scenario is where you are defined by the good deeds you do. These people can also be addicted to the praise and recognition that their altruistic deeds create. Mother Theresa said, " You will find me in my work". Meaning its not about her. The work she did was important enough and sustainable enough to continue whether she was there or not. This is an ethos I try to live by and beleive we all should. I recently had tears and tantrums from a group of associates all of whom were doing similar good work. Naturally there were overlaps and synergies. As a film maker I thought these connections were great and there would be a lot of collaboration and cooperation. But sadly, no. I was rather shocked to see this group of charitable souls all eager to erradicate major gloabl issues, accusing each other of plageurism, copyright infringement and stealing of ideas and initaitives. To me this was more ugly than if they had been capitalists killing each other for the next big buck. At least those guys are true to their colours. Maybe the charity guys should have said " Yes I want to erradicate world poverty but I want the power and the glory that goes wth that and I don't want anyone else to get a peice!". That would have been more acceptable.

Both the above scenarios to me are about Ego's. Ego gets a rough ride, because we tend to blame it when we are too full of ourselves, or thinking we are better than others. Ego's clearly played a part in the second scenario, where people cared more about the recognition of their own initiaitive than working towards a common goal.

But what about the first scenario? Your ego also defines you and gives you a sense of self and self preservation. Here ego I think is a good thing. Hey, if we were mean't to be angels we'd be given wings! We're human beings and there's nothing wrong with that. Selflessness is fine in some scenarios but not in others. A mother depriving herself of a good night's sleep for her baby is a selflessness that is noble. But if her lack of sleep makes her so sick that she can't function then its not noble anymore - in fact its irresponsible.

With anything that we feel compelled to do for a higher purpose, I think we should always look at the motive and intention behind the need. The need to make ourselves feel better will always be there in some shape or form, and that's ok. Its when that need overshadow's the good work we are doing that we need to be wary.

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