Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The New Selfish


Here’s one of my favorite pictures of me, the one I use for the blog (duh!), but that is so little you can’t really see me. I’m on a portion of the rampart walk of the walled port city of St. Malo, in Brittany, France. Beyond the wall is the English Channel; the tide is out, the water calm and a beautiful deep shade of blue. It’s mid-May, and the air is clear and cool.

My daughter and I spent part of a day in St. Malo. We learned that eighty-percent of the city was destroyed in one single day of fighting near the end of World War II. You can see it, walking the perimeter of the town, the old up against the new up against the old. Weathered, centuries-old mossy stones connecting like puzzle pieces with modern concrete. Though I’ve read that some of it was repaired immediately, using the original stones. A gallant effort to preserve not just history, but their very homes.


For me, it’s just the opposite. Tearing down history, but with no interest in rebuilding with the same materials. Case in point, putting up this picture of me, which is causing no small amount of internal strife. But, really, I keep telling myself, if Oprah can put herself on the front of her magazine every single month, surely I can, on occasion, start my post with a pix of myself. Why not?

Because as far back as I can remember, it was never okay to put myself out there, never okay to look vain in any way, or to like myself; not to mention shameful and downright sinful to be seen as self-centered, self-interested, self-absorbed, selfish in any way.

I’ll say right off the bat that vanity has never been a problem of mine. Just the opposite in fact (though I’m wondering right now if maybe it isn’t actually vain to write that I’m not vain… hmm). Nor had selfishness been part of my make up. Early on I learned to accommodate everyone; not only to put my own wants, needs and desires after every one else’s, but to flat out exorcise them. And I did a good job, I put them so far away, that most often I no longer knew I even had any. I dated, and had relationships and friendships with people because that’s what they wanted, and had no idea if it was what I wanted or not.

My sister, too. She married two different men because they asked her. She was young, she figured if they asked, she was supposed to say yes. In my early twenties, I had my heart broken by a man who pursued me until I fell in love. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized I didn’t even know if I had liked this person. When we talk about these things, my sister and I, we stare at each other speechless, and in amazement. We are, after all, smart, well-educated, worldly-ish women.

So how is it that some of us come into this world proudly displaying our peacock plumes while others of us are constantly busy either tucking the feathers neatly inside, or worse, plucking the colorful array lest we offend someone by being too vivid and vibrant, too brightly hued? How come some of us stand tall and assured, while others cower, afraid to look the world directly in the eye? And why is it that some of us slide from the womb singing me, me, me in every octave and range, while again, others blanch and cringe at the very notion, possibly shamed early on into silence?

One of the greatest gifts to come out of all the turmoil of the last year has been that I’ve had to begin to learn—after fifty-some years—to put myself first. I’ve had no choice. I’ve been so overwhelmed, and often in so much pain, that there was simply no way that I could do anything other than to be self-centered, and care for myself first and foremost. And in the necessity to be selfish, I’ve also become more visible than I’ve ever dared be, plus made more waves some days than a jet ski on a calm alpine lake. An antonym I’ve seen for selfishness is altruism. What I want to know is why it isn’t considered not just altruistic, but the height of altruism to put oneself first, to care for oneself, to want oneself to be seen and appreciated, to want the same for ourselves that we want for others?

I am not talking here about narcissism. And I am not talking about this new personal obsessiveness brought on by social networking, where people think other people want to read about every second of their lives, about their every mundane move. Where they are the center of some imagined universe. That’s another post altogether. What I’m talking about is something as different as night and day, and quite healthy… more akin maybe to self love, where we honor, care for, recognize, and nurture ourselves in the very same manner that we would others. Where we have every right to show up, and spread and flaunt our feathers, big, bright, colorful; maybe even looking not too bad on the French coast, softly content, the breeze blowing gently through the hair. Where we have not just the right, but the will to say no thank you, that doesn't work for me today, it might not work tomorrow, maybe it won't even work the following day. Or conversely, to say YES, definitely, I want that! Where we are just as important, not more so, not less so, but every bit as significant as the next person.

All I can say is amen, and right on.

And just for good measure, and to up the ante even more on my personal discomfort, here's another one...


Until next time...


  1. I think being selfless is [at some point] the trait of all great women. My mom for example is so selfless, she gives and gives, and she could do anything to make her family happy. And I love her for that, and I don't mean because she does all those things per say, but because she has so much love for her family. And I truly think people like that are a rare breed those days.

    But still, I always argue with her about that. I always try to tell her to take time for her own and just enjoy it for HER and do what ever SHE wants. 'cause she deserves it! Plus, I do want her to be physically and mentally around.. not absent or just anxious and always thinking.

    So I think it is so essential to love yourself and do things for your own. But I also believe that it is also essential to learn that after an experience, and not just be self-centered from birth.. I don't think you would be the person you are right now if you were like that. Be glad you weren't!

    Nice post...

  2. You are so right, Laith! Nor do I want to be that. Just a nice "healthy" degree of narcissism!! Ha! Yet sometimes the pendulum does have to swing all the way in the other direction before it settles back to center.

    Ah... selfless. Yes, that word came up as I wrote. It's tricky, selfless vs. not even knowing you exist or are entitled to anything. Perhaps a whole other post there... :) And I don't think there's any getting around it being such a women's issue. We are so accultuated to put everyone first. Most often to our detriment.

    BTW, you and your mom are lucky to have each other!

    Thanks for the comments. This could be such a great discussion!


  3. But why do you feel so acculturated to put everyone first? I'm puzzled.

    The thing is, this same problem exists in all cultures when it comes to women. Now, I would think that women in America for example are far more "narcissistic" than women here in the Middle East for example.. since women's rights movements are active there (I don't know, I might be "too affected" by what I see on American TV shows).. But with all that, I feel this problem is faced by women everywhere.

    I don't know, it might just be how God created women. You know, how nature intended if you wish... life would not exist without selfless women! It sincerely would not.

    But I guess I'm focusing more on the "family" part of being selfless, since I, as I said before, have seen it in my mom a lot... but I guess it would be a BIG problem if one becomes a people pleaser just to get recognition.

    I guess that's what it is, 'cause I lived that at some point of my life [and still fall back and forth] (I do sound like a 90 year old man, don't I? haha).. I mean I think when I did not have that degree of narcissism you talked about I was out to please people to get recognition and just be accepted by others, I still have this problem in my relationships but I'm working on it..

    It might be about filling some void in one's self... I think.

  4. ha, ha, ha! LOL, about the pics.

    It's such a huge topic, Laith. So many angles and nuances. I'm sure it will show up again in my posts at some point. The whole pleaser thing has been huge for me. And not just pleaser, but accomodator, which is a slight variation, and comes I'm sure from the same internal place. Think about it this way: if a person is always trying to please, even on some deep level they're not even aware of, there's no chance they can ever really be real, be themselves, or act in ways that are good for them. They're always scanning the environment to see what's expected of them. A pretty awful way to live.

    Why was I acculturated to put everyone first? I'm sure it was some combo of my personality and the family I was born into and things that happened in the family. There were three of us, all girls. We all came out differently, but in our own ways, we each ended up pleasers, and unaware that we were entitled (big word there) to much of anything.

    Look at your post where you ranted about all the things that annoyed you. I loved that post, because it was so honest, and I would have been too scared of offending to write it myself! (Though I'm going to work on that!!)

    Yes, American TV portrays certain types of American women. But it's TV... what can I say? Not that those young women don't exist here because they do. But they're no where near the majority. And yes, I think it's easier for women here to be "narcissistic." No question.

    I can never buy into any idea that requires women to be the selfless ones. Do I think that nature created us more that way? Maybe. The feminine (yin energy) is about nurturing. But men have their own yin sides, too. It's funny, how often do we hear a man called selfish?

    And for the record, all bets are off when there's children. Yes, children should come first. Yes, parents should be selfless when it comes to raising children.

    Just some thoughts... :)

  5. WOW... I've been missing a lot.. haha.. you have been writing a lot of posts apparently. Great! ;)

    You mentioned my post, about the things I hate.. it's not that people got offended or anything, some people started disliking me (?? maybe) 'cause of my extensive use of foul language. >_>

    I dunno.. maybe that's still a big thing to some people in Jordan.. Look at people here as the people at the Titanic times.. you know, with all that hypocrisy and such.. (You know how women used to act? Men too probably..)
    But again, I do not care.. My motto in life is to try as much as possible to be "non-full of crap" and just be myself. :)

    I don't think that women should be selfless.. I think they were more likely created that way. But what do I know... I cannot understand women! You think in a totally different way than we do.. haha.. just a thought. :p

    I hope I'll be able to read your other posts when I have a bit more time on my side.. ;)

    Until then,


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