I’d been bumming around on the internet, searching for new inspiration, when I stumbled upon this quote from an unknown author: “Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light.”
When I first read this quote, something about it struck me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, picking it apart, trying to figure out what it meant.
Perhaps it’s this idea that self-sacrifice is something good people do, the implication being that if you aren’t willing to douse your light for another, then you aren’t a good person. And perhaps this wasn’t the author’s intent—more than anything, this quote strikes me as a lamentation about how unfair life is, that good people are harmed by doing good for others. But the idea that the only way to be considered a “good” person is by burning out your light is an interesting one to me.
Or perhaps this quote struck me because I have known people who did, in fact, burn themselves up to give others light. I have also known people who expect others to sacrifice their light for them, and dismiss those people as “not good enough” if they spare a little light for themselves.
Giving others everything you have, right down to the meat and marrow, is not the only way to be a good person. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy.
This quote relies on a commonly-held belief that we need to give people our absolute greatest effort at all times, especially if they are family, or if we have made a commitment to them, such as marriage. If we don’t do this, then we aren’t trying hard enough. If trying harms us emotionally, then that’s our problem to work on, because that person needs our attention. Society has decided that we owe them that.
But the thing is, a relationship between two people should not be draining.
We should not feel like we are candles, melting away to give light to others. Ideally, we should feel like the moon: solid, stable, giving light effortlessly and receiving light in return.
Remaining in toxic relationships and allowing others to drain us away to nothing does not make us good people, and walking out of those relationships does not make us bad ones. Sometimes the best thing we can do is walk away; sometimes certain people just aren’t good for us, and it doesn’t matter if they are family or if we have made some sort of commitment to them in the past.
Maybe that means the other person has to go without light for a little bit. Maybe they have to learn how to create their own. If you allow yourself to burn out completely for their sake, you may never get yourself back.
You only have one you, so value it.
There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first from time-to-time. There is nothing wrong with needing your own light. We put so much emphasis on giving everything we have to others that sometimes we forget to take some of it for ourselves too, and claiming it doesn’t make us bad people. It just makes us human.
So value your own opinion. Carve your own path in life, even if others disagree with you. Even if standing up for yourself offends other people, even if they look down on you for it—do it anyway. If it’s important to you, the right people will respect that.
And if you know anyone who keeps on dulling their own light for the sake of another, don’t forget to fan their flame a little bit. Encourage them to make decisions for themselves every once in a while, whether that means indulging in a cheesecake for no other reason than that that would make them happy, or choosing the job or school that they want, rather than the one that they think they are expected to choose.
At the end of day, no one has to be happy with your life except you. So live with that knowledge, and share it with others. Give yourself and those around you the freedom to own their light, because that is a freedom we all deserve.