We humans are an entertaining bunch, aren't we? At one moment we care for our neighbors, we nurture our communities, and are joined in solidarity when tragedy strikes. At another moment, we find ourselves viciously reaching for each others' throats for the most trivial and banal of opinions. We seem to be in constant flux, feeling the desire for great love and care whilst simultaneously feeling the desire for great violence and dominion over those we view as inferior. What a precarious situation we seem to find ourselves in on a day to day basis; we care too much for others at the expense of ourselves, or we care too much about ourselves that we crush others and leave them by the wayside.
Of course, the world doesn't always function in such moral absolutes. We all do what is in our best interest, after all. But how do we know that what we're doing is in our best interest? I'd argue that more often than not, we are absolutely clueless. The world and universe seem to function on a time scale that's near-incomprehensible to the vast majority of humans. The way in which we prioritize our self-preservation is reflective of that. We seek a valuable and happy life in a short amount of time, completely glossing over that which keeps us alive. For example, we ignore the glaringly obvious fact that we depend on nature to survive, and constantly reduce, destroy, and subjugate it so that we can live blissfully and ignorantly in the time that we have here.
How can one truly believe that they are acting in their best interest when they are actively killing the very thing that nurtures them? Or that they're acting in their best interest when their irresponsible actions may lead to the destruction of the very systems that have kept their society functional? Or even worse, their actions lead to the demise of their fellow man, whose community has contributed to the same economy and livelihood that they take part in?
The short-sighted nature of our being seems to demonstrate that we don't know what's best for us. We eat unhealthy foods, despite knowing how they may affect us. We smoke and drink, knowing the physiological damage those things will cause us. We operate heavy metal machines with the knowledge that we need robust safety systems to even have the chance of surviving in case something goes wrong. We constantly engage in behavior that has the potential to kill us or others if it makes our lives just slightly easier. If survival is the reason for our selfish actions, then why do we constantly engage in behaviors that completely threaten it?
What's best for us is not always obvious. Sometimes what's best for us flies directly in the face of conventional knowledge. As an extremely basic example, eating something that tastes awful that is packed full of nutrients doesn't seem to make much sense. Why would we continue to eat something that tastes abhorrent? Because when we go past the most primitive of human emotions or our instantaneous reaction to stimuli, we have something beautiful: higher thinking. We can rise above our biases, our flawed thinking, and our short-sighted views. We have the ability to entertain complex ideas without falling prey to our most base instincts, so long as we allow ourselves to. We have the ability to understand that something uncomfortable or bad in the short-term may actually be beneficial in the long-term. But we have to do so consciously, and actively take the reins when we find ourselves reduced to our most primal.
When we think higher, we realize that it is not only the individual that is strong, but also the community that nurtures them to be such a way. When we think higher, we realize that if we want to thrive, we must nurture and preserve the planet that allows us to do so. When we think higher, we realize that we have significantly more in common with our fellow man than we do differences. The pre-requisite for any of us to care for ourselves in the first place is a healthy environment, both in a physical and metaphysical sense. Without such an environment, we would cease to function effectively, if at all.
To act in our best interest is to care beyond ourselves, for the things beyond ourselves are what allow us to do so in the first place.