Putting Others First

April 22nd, 2007

Jesus always put others first - and also had a cool laser pointer embedded in his chest.

Recently in Victoria, Australia, an HIV positive man, Michael John Neal, was charged with deliberately having unprotected sex in order to increase the pool of HIV positive men who could then have unprotected sex with him.

This radical approach to the problem is both admirable and spooky at the same time.

Admiration stems from Neal’s ability to think outside the box. Problem: not enough gay men wanting unprotected sex, because they’re scared of getting AIDS. Solution: give them AIDS so they’re no longer scared.

That kind of approach is something that Edward de Bono, the founder of lateral thinking, would be proud of.

However, the approach is disquieting and spooky because it is so utterly self-centered. It would be nice to live in a world where people said, “Oops. I’ve got AIDS, so now I’ve have to wear condoms whenever I’m horny. Oh well! It looks like buying those shares in Trojan were a good investment after all.”

We don’t live in that world. We live in a harsh world in which people can distort and thwart even the most sensible advice. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” imposes no restrictions if you’re happy for people to lie to you, cheat you and infect you with deadly diseases.

The Ten Commandments provide clear guidelines in this case. If only Michael John Neal had remembered “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass”, he’d be a free man right now.

Not that we’re trying to get all religious here. Just because people cry out “Oh God!” at the point of sexual climax doesn’t mean religion has a part to play in the bedroom (except, of course, if you have a thing for nuns).

It does seem, though, that many of the world’s problems would be solved if we put our own self-interest in the back seat, and thought more about others. We call our humble approach “Putting Others First.”

Want to have unprotected sex? Get full consent from a person who already has another terminal disease, and doesn’t care about getting another one.

Want to own a TV that’s larger than your neighbour’s? Self-interest would have you rush to the mall for the biggest plasma screen money can buy. Putting Others First would have you buy your neighbour a 17″ black-and-white TV. It would cost you a lot less, but you’d still achieve your goal.

Want to earn more money than your boss? Self-interest would have you work hard at getting your boss demoted so your paycheck becomes larger than hers. Putting Others First would have you give your house to your boss so she is rich enough to retire. Her paycheck would then plummet to zero, and you would be well in front.

Want a new house so you can retire early? Self-interest would have you invest 20% of your pay each week until you’ve saved enough for an investment property. Putting Others First would have you hire dozens of staff who also subscribe to the Putting Others First philosophy, and who want paychecks that are bigger than yours.

Moving our entire society to such a selfless and generous footing won’t be easy. Look how hard it’s been to get people to act on climate change, and that’s actually a good idea.

But because something is hard doesn’t mean you should ignore the challenge. Self-interest would have you choose the easy route. Putting Others First stipulates that you need to encourage everyone else to change first, and once they’ve done the heavy lifting, you waltz in to take the prize.

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Putting Others First