The Oxygen Mask Theory: A Lesson In Selfishness

Gilberto Rosas
Jun 3, 2016 · 3 min read

If you’ve ever been on a plane then you pretty much know that if that plane ever decides to nose dive, the very first thing you’re going to reach for is that oxygen mask.

Consider this situation: the plane has descended in altitude and as you reach for your oxygen mask, you notice that the person next to you is having trouble putting on theirs. You have 2 choices to make in the next 2 seconds: help the other person or put on your mask.

Though it may seem harsh to hear, the option that would help both individuals is for you to put on your mask and once having done that, you can help the person next to you. The alternative wouldn’t work because you can’t help someone if you’re dead.

The moral of the story being that you can’t pour a glass of water when you’re cup is empty. Ironically, this scenario is more a lesson in giving than it is in selfishness.

A while back, I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. For those of you who have heard of this classic book, the author advocates selfishness. Although this may seem like a radical idea and the basis for a dystopian future, it makes sense when you look at it from a different perspective. Let me explain…

You see, by helping yourself, you can help others. When you drain yourself by exerting all your efforts, you will help very little people and diminish all your resources in the process. It is true that you will help people initially but there’s only so much you can give of yourself without hindering yourself.

What I’ve found is that when I put time and energy into investing in myself and doing what it is I love to do, I am able to provide so much more value to others. It’s a win-win situation. Although it may seem counter intuitive and not readily apparent, you may want to start looking into what it is you want to do and not just try to do what others want you to do.

Don’t be a people pleaser.

This is a great example of “giving the oxygen mask away.” It is only natural that we want others to like us. we are social creatures and much of our progress throughout civilization has been primarily through collective efforts a.k.a people helping people each other achieve a grand goal for the betterment of humanity.

F*ck that. Have some standards. The most immediate example I can think of is the “fake nice guy.” This is the guy that’ll be nice to everyone who he wants something from but also the type of guy to be rude to a waiter. The real judge of character is how you behave with those who you need nothing from. How are you acting to the old lady that just sat next to you, are you treating her with the same kindness and respect as you would a millionaire?

The ultimate point here is: Be Genuine.

Know what it is you want. Be true to yourself and act according to those actions. people will respect you more for it. If you keep up this facade of someone you’re not, people will, on a deeper level, resent and ultimately be repelled by that. It is not an attractive feature nor the characteristic of someone who’s likeable.

And if you’re afraid that people won’t respect your needs, wants, and big dreams then they shouldn’t be in your life and it is a sure sign that the facade that you have put up has gone on for too long.

Do what makes you happy because by that effect, you will inject more positivity, passion, and enthusiasm into your environment and possibly inspire a person or two!

By improving ourselves, we help others improve themselves.

Gilberto Rosas

Written by

I write about self improvement, entrepreneurship, and life experiments from my own life. Founder at

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