Friday, February 19, 2016

The world owes us nothing. But...

There's a comment I see fairly often on the internet, from Stephen Fry. The quote is often quoted by people who want to point out that the world owes you nothing, and should not cater to your demands. The quote is:

It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what.

Essentially, what the person who uses this quote is saying is exactly that. "I don't owe you anything. I don't have to contain my own thoughts for fear of upsetting or offending others, and to demand that I do so is akin to an assault on my own freedom."  Of course, that's absolutely true. Nobody owes anyone else anything. And it's important that we expect nothing from anyone else.

There's a flipside to that, as well, that came up on a facebook meme that I saw the other day. I think the message is either "don't expect people to treat you the same as you treat them" or "don't do things because you want people to treat you the same way." Personally, I read it as the latter. You shouldn't do things because you want people to treat you the same way. That's the problem with the Golden Rule: "Do onto others as you would have them do onto you" sort of implies that they WILL do onto you, and as I said above, They have no real obligation to. We forget that in society so often that it's pervasive. It's the whole point behind "The Friend Zone". "I was nice to her, but she didn't reciprocate in the manner I was expecting!" Television constantly uses the "I was nice to that person, but they spurned me" as the plot for any number of sitcoms.  And it all boils down to the same thing: Expectations. We expect others to act in a certain way, and when they don't, we're disappointed. Offended, as it were.

So, we shouldn't expect people to cater to our will. Be that because it offends us, as Stephen Fry said, or because we expect them to reciprocate our own actions, as the meme points out. Nobody owes us anything.

Of course, that point is used often enough on the internet that if that were the end of it, I wouldn't even need to write this post. But it's not. Yes, it's true, but it's not the whole story. In fact, it's probably the biggest problem with society today. Because when someone says "nobody owes us anything." it's easy to derive from that, "I don't owe anything to anyone." While the first point is true, the second most certainly is not.

In the meme, I said that I prefer to interpret it to mean, "don't do things because you want people to treat you the same way." That's because there's a follow up to that sentence. The entire thing should be "don't do things because you want people to treat you the same way, do them because they're the right thing to do." We often forget that when we stand together, we are so much better than individuals. Kindness is a gift that enriches both the giver and the receiver. By taking care of others, we enrich the world. By endeavoring to not offend others, we make everyone's lives better.

So, it's important to remember that the world owes us nothing. But it's equally important to remember that we owe the world everything.