I abruptly said, “I need some time. I’m going for a walk.”
Annoyed, she shook her head.
I stepped into the blazing sun, no sunglasses or hat, turned and put the sun behind me.
A picnic should have been easy: just two or three hours, and much of the time we could talk business, but… What? A few minutes ago, she had accused me of being selfish, of always having my own way. She was referring to the last three times that I had found reasons to say No to her picnic.
“When is it going to be my turn?” she had asked plaintively.
I shook my head at the memory. Was I being selfish?
I once read that the word was a judgmental accusation too often used by those trying to get their own way. It was also a difficult word to oppose.
I stopped walking, turned and squinted into the sun. This was stupid; I had to go back.
As I walked through the door, she was standing, eyebrows raised. I pointed to the chairs, and we sat.
I said, “I have been wondering about the difference between selfishness and self-love.”
She started to apologize for calling me selfish, but I stopped her with a flick of my head.
“I like making people happy,” I said. “It feels good, except for those times when it doesn’t.”
She frowned and opened her mouth to argue.
I stopped her with, “Let me finish.”
I took a breath and pressed on.
“I keep coming back to the question, ‘When should I make myself unhappy for someone else’s happiness?’”
I paused and then concluded, “And I think the answer is never.”
She had always been a good debater, and she did not falter here.
She asked, “How about the parent who works two awful jobs, so that their child can have a better life?”
I countered, “Doesn’t that parent’s happiness come from their hope in the child’s future?”
She immediately began to ask, “What about…?”
Again I cut her off: “There may well be times when it is good to make ourselves unhappy for another, but mostly I think it is like your picnic invitation. If I were to go with you, I would have to work at hiding my resentment.”
“So you’re telling me No,” she said.
“I think the feeling of resentment is the key. And that anytime I imagine I will be feeling it, I have to say No, both to take care of myself and to avoid that resentment coming between us.
Suddenly, she was on her feet. She gave me a brief look of disgust and walked out.
After a moment, I realized that I felt badly and I felt elated. Instead of giving in to her, I had stood up for me.
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