There’s tremendous depth to this statement and as many interpretations as there are people on the planet. It shines in direct contrast to the ideal of the rugged individualist so prevalent in many western societies.
First, ask yourself what you want? We need to have clear goals.
Ziglar started his career as a salesman and his goal was to make money. He understood that a good salesperson lives with integrity, listens to customers and understands their needs. When buyers have the product they want in their hands and have paid a fair price, they’re happy and so is the seller. It’s a simple win-win situation.
As a teacher, I want to make a positive difference in the world. By working to educate my students and draw out their giftedness, this goal is achieved.
I discovered an even more profound meaning to Ziglar’s statement recently when discussing the book Night by Elie Wiesel with my students. Wiesel was a weak and timid teenager who survived not only the infamous Holocaust death camp at Auschwitz, but also the Buchenwald death march. When asked how he was able to stay alive, Wiesel often stated that he didn’t know.
Readers of his memoir clearly note, however, that Wiesel was focused on the well-being of his father throughout his concentration camp experience. He saw other sons abandon their fathers, yet he refused to do so. Wiesel’s goal was to save himself – not just for his own sake but so he could help his father stay alive. While physically stronger men died all around him, his profound love for his father kept young Wiesel alive.
We see the same sort of love in parents who experience incredible hardship for the sake of their children. In doing so, they discover strength they never knew they had. They also hopefully realize that in order to be a source of strength for others, they need to care for themselves.
On a social level, we see the same reality. Lloyd Pendleton, for example, once believed that people were homeless by their own choice, and homelessness could never be eliminated because too many people made bad choices. Then he experienced a paradigm shift.
Pendleton knew that in Utah, where he lives, there was “an underlying feeling and desire and willingness to collaborate to serve our neighbours.” This perspective allowed citizens to see the homeless as people who were hurt and suffering. Pendleton’s organization began to use a “harm reduction” method to meet the immediate needs of homeless people by, for example, giving needles to drug addicts to prevent the spread of disease. They treated the people with respect and patience, and gradually earned their trust.
In the end, homelessness was virtually eliminated in Utah. They created a win-win situation where a desire to love and serve others, something innate in the human spirit, allowed others to meet their basic human need for safety and security. A community was created that Pendleton once thought was unattainable.
In response to famine in Africa, the song We Are The World was released in 1985. The most popular musicians of the era raised millions by reminding us, “It’s a choice we’re making. We’re saving our own lives. It’s true we make a better day, just you and me.”
Although it may seem counterintuitive to make the well-being of others a priority in our lives, we really do get what we need in life by being our very best for the benefit of our neighbours.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.