One of the results of living so deeply involved in the self-help age is the idea that selfishness is something we are not only permitted, but entitled to.
I whole-heartedly accept this consolation as justification. In fact, I’ve worked extremely hard toward it. I’ve been intentionally selfish for a very long time because I’ve been told that in order to succeed, selfishness is a key ingredient.
It sounds harsh when spit out like that — but I don’t believe that selfishness is a bad thing. I believe that people waste far too many days of their limited number worrying only about what other people think/do/feel/see.
Being selfish doesn’t mean never picking up the cheque or neglecting to send birthday cards. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, it just means that your priority — for the time being — is yourself. And let’s face it, as a twenty-something in a fast paced world, the priority kind of has to land on you at some point or you’re going to end up SOL.
So we wrap our minds around the fact that selfishness will act as a catalyst for success, for innovation, for happiness and we cancel our plans for the night at the last minute because what we really need is a three hour bubble bath and a soundtrack by Ella Fitzgerald.
We do this all the time — and for the most part, it works. Opportunity comes our way, we feel happy, we feel like we’re moving on up. We credit our inner Madonna and say “yeah, whatever, I’m a bitch, but I’m busy becoming great.”
But, as life is prone to do, monkey wrenches have a funny way of hurling themselves into our selfish existences prompting us to use a different playing card.
It’s the one thing on earth that has a zero per cent success rate when selfishness is applied.
Love — for all mankind, for family, for friends, even for oneself — does not flourish in an environment of me. In fact, it flounders.
The word “unconditional” is one the selfish person (me) dreads. It encompasses the idea that no matter your whims — your personal needs, your desires — that someone else possess the right to veto them. This fear of the unconditional is merely an extension of the selfishness I have created my current life around. Love isn’t about ownership — it’s about partnership.
But I have never been a team player.
So how does one enter into a loving relationship with anyone — be them a stranger on the street who needs a smile, a family member in ill health, or a significant other — without giving up all the values of self that enable us to feel whole, successful, and driven? Because that’s what we want isn’t it? To feel independent and self-assured and “free” but to also feel respected, needed, appreciated, adored, loved.
It’s a hard question. It’s a question I can’t answer. It’s a question I most certainly cannot answer fast enough to affect change on my life this very moment, no matter how desperately I want to be the woman who puts others before herself.
But I’ve been trying — and here’s the theory I’ve developed for myself.
What we want when we take on selfishness as a face is to feel respected, needed, appreciated, adored, and loved. That’s why we do it. We want to feel good so we take on the responsibility ourselves. But what if we trusted love the way we’re meant to and accepted that our only job was to bestow those feelings upon the people we cared about, and that love — this all encompassing, all accepting, unconditional being — would, in return, bestow the same upon us?
Life would be simpler. People would be happier.
It’s just a theory.
The other night I sat down to watch a movie with The Reporter — it was Field of Dreams, a childhood favorite of his. I had never seen the movie before, nor did I have any great desire to, but I did it because his eyes sparkled when he realized it was on On Demand.
There’s this great series of scenes near the beginning in which sexy Kevin Costner starts hearing voices that tell him to build a baseball field, so three minutes later he’s building one.
His wife and daughter look at him like he’s crazy, but they help him clear the corn.
I was in one of my selfish moods — probably thinking about how I wished he kept popcorn in his apartment or something — and I said, “It’s so ridiculous that his wife doesn’t even blink an eye. There’s no explanation for what or why he’s feeling or hearing these things — she just goes along with it.”
Not even a second passed before he responded.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s love.”
That’s love, he said. It’s safe, he said.
It’s OK for me to put my trust in something other than myself.
Selflessness has the same outcome.