Friday, March 17, 2006

Don't Do It For Me

For years I've told women that I was involved with, "do me a favor, don't do me any favors." In short, "don't do anything for me."

At first it might seem as if I'm simply playing semantical word games. As much as I like playing games, this isn't one of them. The words we use or seem to misuse, short of illiteracy, usually mean far more than we're willing to take credit for. They're chosen to indicate how we've structured our thinking and I've found it rarely comes down to, "you say poe-tay-toe and I say poe-tah-toe."

I have some real problems with the common useage of "selfish" and, by result, "selflessness." First, we speak of "selfish" as if there's an alternative. I can't conceive of one. In my experience, every perception, experience, reaction and action we're capable of is from within; self-perceived, self-conceived, self-acted upon, etc. It's perplexing to me to think that one could not be selfish. It would follow, at least to my way of thinking, that selflessness is a concept that simply does not and cannot exist. When someone acts in a fashion that we define as "selfless," they are acting out of what they believe to be their own (at the moment, anyway) best interest.

This is usually where I'm accused of playing with words or just plain being wrong.

But I think the concept, as I said above, is used to support our rather short-sighted way of relating to ourselves and the people around us. If hurting another person, slighting another person, failing to see where their best interests are our best interests creates stress, grief, turmoil, arguments, angst, distrust, etc. how could the action that provoked all that sturm and drang reasonably be described as self-ish? If my actions are not serving me well, I'm not selfish, I'm either just misguided or stupid.

If a new neighbor were to move in and I were to ignore them or, even worse, call out my front door, "hey, keep off my yard when you're moving your stuff" I doubt that would create much good will. It would be a far more selfish act to go over and offer to help.

If I love someone dearly, isn't it in my best interests, when the situation calls for it, to put their needs ahead of my own? Aren't we both better for that? And, heaven forbid, if they act accordingly, the self-indulgent selfish fest that follows might result in actual, real-life, down-home, loving behavior. (Oh, I forgot, love is a word we use to describe how we feel, not how we act. That's what I mean about words.)

If you're with me here, everything we do is selfish. It simply comes down to how short-sighted we are regarding ourselves.

So why bother with this? Whether you agree or disagree, most people understand what's commonly meant when someone's actions are described as selfish. I suppose I'm not most people. I simply end up confused. "You mean you're not selfish? You spend your days acting against yourself?" That's a head-scratcher to me.

Perhaps I'm also an exception in this situation: I find myself in a relationship, even one in which the "L" word is used and, at some point I hear, "well, I did this for you, I did that for you," etc. As I'm being rebuked, first I'm angry and upset and second, since I've told you how my mind works, I don't believe they ever did do "it" for me. In truth, if my dear heart's list of actions was so selfless, why is she bringing it up now, anyway? But that's my point about why we use words the way we do. We get to act as horribly as we want and attach the "right" words to it. As in, "I wasn't being selfish when I did all that for you." Or "I acted selflessly." They simply forget to add, "and I'll be sure and remind you of that from time to time."

So, I sit them down and tell them, "look, let's make a deal here. Don't do anything for me. If you don't want to do it, don't. Spare me your selflessness." I usually follow that with something to the effect of, "However, if we find ourselves never caring enough about each other to the point where it pleases us to act in a way that pleases our 'significant other,' I doubt we'll be together very long. But I beg you, spare me your generosity."

To believe that "A" is selfish and "B" is selfless is simply because most of us don't want to do the hard work involved in seeing beyond the tip of our immediate gratification, if not somewhat bent, noses. And that is why, I believe, we keep these concepts in place.

We are directed "out of ourselves" from the day we're born. Responsibility is replaced by rules and authority and, often, religion. We're turned so far away from ourselves that we actually begin to believe that we can and do live outside ourselves. It therefore follows that we come to accept that some among us aren't selfish. I sincerely believe that this does us great harm. It gives us the chance to use words like "selfless" and "love" in situations where nothing of the sort is in play. Call things what they are and we'll be much the wiser and better off for it.

I think we'd all be better served to learn how to be REALLY and EFFECTIVELY selfish.

I heard something once that went something like this:

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."


Now that's what I call selfish.

2 Comments:

Blogger Debbie and Jim said...

Was Nowhere Man ever in syndication? I can't remember ever seeing it again after the original run.

8:15 PM  
Blogger knowwhereman said...

"First, we speak of "selfish" as if there's an alternative. I can't conceive of one."

There really isn't much of one, nor should there be. As you point out, selfishness at its heart is a good thing - but at times it can be bad. How so? If one's
"selfishness" means total self-absorption and being inwardly directed to the extreme which
results in some kind of harm to others. We "need" to be selfish at all times but to be so in a way that minimizes damage to others.

"Perhaps I'm also an exception in this situation: I find myself in a relationship, even one in which the "L" word is used and, at some point I hear, "well, I did this for you, I did that for you," etc. As I'm being rebuked, first I'm angry and upset and second, since I've told you how my mind works, I don't believe they ever did do "it" for me. In truth, if my dear heart's list of actions was so selfless, why is she bringing it up now, anyway?"

Perhaps it is the romantic in me, but I truly believe that when we are in an authentic relationship
the concept of "self" changes to include the other person - that is, the two really become one.
In this dynamic, there is no "me" doing this for "you". We are, in fact, "one". When we indulge ourselves we do it for "us" and when we "sacrifice" something for the other we are still doing it for "us" (the "one"). Only when the relationship is less-than ideal does one find the motivation to wear one's sacrifices for the other as some kind of badge of honor.

5:45 PM  

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