“It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labour diligently for the salvation of the masses.” – Dag Hammarskjuld, former UN secretary-general.
In life, we need both in our service to others. We need to contribute to many people but also contribute to just a few individuals close to us. For most people, the former comes from their work. In fact, most people get paid for being able to provide their skills for a product or service that is used by many people. It is very difficult to get paid well by only providing a service to a handful of people. This is the whole basis for the economic system – the more people that benefit from a person’s work, the more money that person earns. Our economic system is setup to encourage one’s work to connect with the most amount of people. This is why celebrities and athletes get paid so much. Their work is seen by millions of people.
To feel satisfaction we also need to contribute on a more deeper level to just a few people. For most people, this contribution comes from close relationships such as family and friendships. Inherently, I believe all people recognize this. Given the choice, I believe most rational people would choose to have a few very close friends with a deep relationship and understanding rather than many friendships on only a superficial level.
When either one of these is missing, a person feels like their is a big hole in their life. There are many cases of celebrities dealing with this issue. While their work is seen by millions, without the ability to have close relationships they feel empty.
I once attended a seminar where Tony Robbins gave a talk. One point that stuck with me is when he talked about his past where he would give a motivating and energizing speech to tens of thousands of spectators but then he would come home to an empty house or an empty hotel room and would feel alone. To other people it is shocking to hear something like this. They think this person has everything. Yet, without deep, close relationships a person can feel like they have nothing. I once read an African proverb that stated “No matter how many cattle a man owns, without a family he has nothing.”
I suppose the ultimate in devoting yourself to just a few individuals is stay-at-home mothers. I can’t speak for them if they find their work completely fulfilling but I think, as a man, I could not find fulfillment in just devoting my life to serving a few people. Satisfaction comes from doing work which benefits a lot of people a little and from relationships that benefit a few people a lot.