When CAN I Be Selfish?

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/ So, When? /

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We were business partners, but she wanted more.  For several weeks, she had been trying to get me to go on a picnic with her, and she was again waiting for an answer.

I abruptly said, “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 this 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 shake 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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About Daniel Speraw

Curiosity may have killed that feline fur ball, but she or him learned a lot before exiting number nine. I too have been curious, wondering why we, I or they acted this way, looked or did it that way or were otherwise human // But curiosity is such a casual word, and the truth is my desire to know was desperate. There were times in life that I felt angry when there was no one around, unhappy when life was just fine, times I had trouble with relationships for no reason, felt sad when…well, you get the idea // That desperate curiosity, along with forty years of inner work, has lead to some interesting answers and some surprising books // I also enjoy talking with those courageous people who are going for a positive change, and I live to see that eye-widening moment of understanding // Besides curious and a listener, I am also a writer who began with a column in the San Jose Mercury News, nationally syndicated. My current project is the book series, “Things That Make Life Better ” // So, from the central coast of the western U.S., I submit these curious jottings of curiosity to be browsed by those who will hopefully find them just as helpful and they might have hoped //// NOTE: One of the highlights of my day is hearing from you. Write soon: dshc @ att.net ……………… Daniel
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One Response to When CAN I Be Selfish?

  1. I totally agree with you. We can do things for the people we love even if we don’t want to do it, because in the end just seing their joy will make us happy. But living your life for the sake of making everyone happy is a total waste. We have to exercise our personal choice. You wouldn’t let someone you love feel bad, right? So if I love myself…

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