In much of the family or marital conflict I hear people talk about, I hear accusations of selfishness thrown around, especially by parents about their children. It is an interesting concept: to accuse someone of selfishness and risk the irony of St Matthew Chapter 7 verse 3. As my beloved King James Bible puts it: ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?’
But that doesn’t necessarily help those on the receiving end, though a curt Matthew 7 verse 3 can bring them up in their tracks….
So here is a simple ‘pain button un-install’ for the accusation of selfishness which of course may be justified, but even so…..
Selfish means you that you only act or care about yourself. As we are a fundamentally social species, this is probably not a sound sustainable strategy in the long run.
However, unless you are a saint, neither is its opposite, selflessness, which leads rather rapidly to compassion fatigue and if care givers (the prime example of selflessness) don’t look after themselves, then they soon suffer from burn out or compassion fatigue.
So what are we to do? I have invented a new word ‘selfy’ to cover a different approach. Selfy assumes that as we grow up there is a healthy stage of selfish self-focus, not taken to an extreme, but as a way to finding who the heck we are. If we fail to go through this stage, we may become superficially selfless, but it won’t be a lot of use. We need our 40 days in the wilderness to find ourselves, and maybe that selfish stage is best done alone.
This stage is I find a necessary development stage before we can even begin to care for others. Heck if Jesus Christ needed it, who are we to go straight into selflessness? Tad arrogant? And we may in time try selflessness, but more sustainably I suggest we become selfy: that is self aware, knowing our needs, finding ways to meet them, and on the strength that this gives us, begin to give to others what we can give: love, support, listening etc. But in my experience it is almost impossible to convincingly give love, support, listening, compassion, whatever, unless we have learned first to love, support, listen and give compassion to ourselves. Without that, we are continually pseudo-fixing other people’s problems as a surrogate way to deal with our own, like a therapist who doesn’t know his/her own demons and offs them onto her/his patients.
Anyway, something to bear in mind the next time someone lobs ‘selfish’ at you in a family or relationship argument. I guess we could have ‘selfy’ badges? Though a ‘Matthew 7.3’ badge might work too.