The Oxygen Mask

Recently I was on a plane ride (relatable!) and had a revelation. I was settling into my seat and getting ready to listen to my podcast that I had lined up on the history of mayonnaise, when, to my horror I realized that I had forgotten my headphones. After I had gone through the stages of grief and finally reached acceptance, I decided to listen to the flight attendants’ spiel on safety and what not. Because this was to be my only form of entertainment, I listened intently to their performance. Perhaps it was because I was so bored and wanted desperately to find meaning in their words, or because I truly had been inspired, but my revelation came as the oxygen mask  protocol was described.

They said that the oxygen masks will come down, and that we should apply our own if we are able and then help the people around us, if they are unable to do so on their own (paraphrasing, lay off me flight attendants!). In my desperation to connect this to something bigger than what it was, I realized the connection to real life.

Person one can never effectively help person two unless person one has taken care of his/her own needs first. Person one can not help person two if person one is in an iron lung from eating a strict diet only cool ranch Doritos and smoking a pack of menthols a day. Now the situation reverses, and person two, now needs to take care of person one, while never having received the help they needed to start with. (following? I’m not sure I am…)

Another example: person three can never effectively help person four if they don’t model behaviours (British spelling, don’t @ me) that will address person four’s needs. Person four needs help with their anxiety and person three tells them to meditate, exercise, and eat well (wonderful!) then proceeds to eat a peppered slim Jim casseroles in a 15 minute timespan while on a conference call, pausing the call occasionally to tell person four that he/she should eat more vegetables and go for a daily walk. (I think I followed that example a little better).

So remember this, if you want to help someone, you first need to help yourself, and there is no shame in that.


Geraldine Contreeba is a frequent contributor to our site. Her views are her own.


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