Dig Baton Rouge

East of the River

By Katie East

Most people have been accused of being selfish at some point or another in their life. I’d also venture to guess most of those same individuals have been called selfless by other friends or family members. I find that selfishness is in the eye of the beholder. Some groups of people will only see the bad in you while others will always find the good.

This is especially true when it comes to parents. The relationship between a parent and child is by nature one-sided; a child needs his or her parents to survive. And even past 18, or 30 in this day and age, the child is left sometimes needing assistance. So no matter how helpful a friend or how selfless a person that child becomes, the parents only notice when they need to borrow money or forget to iron their shirt. It’s not until the parents become elderly that they are finally ready to acknowledge, and accept, the help their child can give.

There’s a difference between being selfish and worrying about yourself. Taking care of yourself should always be a number one priority and too often in our society that is viewed as selfish, especially for women. Women are supposed to be caregivers, hostesses, and sex goddesses: all in a day’s work. When a woman says “I don’t want to go,” or “I’m not in the mood” it’s considered rude and self-centered. When busy women stop to take time for themselves it’s usually to prevent an impending mental breakdown: let it happen.

For a man or a woman, the most common act that gets you labeled selfless is volunteering. I’ve heard some devil’s advocates say “There are no selfless acts.” Meaning, people only volunteer or adopt children or what have you to help themselves feel better or to fill some void in their life.

To those people I say “Shut up.”

Yes, it makes you feel good to do good for other people. But that’s only a byproduct, that’s not the main motivator. Helping people usually helps yourself but that’s not why most people do it. Have you ever thought, “You know what, I have very little self-worth lately. I’d like to see someone doing worse than me, and maybe my taking pity on them will change my brain chemistry and outlook and thus I shall feel better about myself.” No, you haven’t. You’ve just thought, “I want to help someone.”

Granted, some selfish CEO’s or celebrities might only give money to charities because their public relations spokesperson convinced them to. Other than that, you can guarantee people help because they want to see other people better off than when they left them. Also, billionaire CEO’s and celebrities aren’t real people so let’s save that for another discussion.

You don’t have to go to a soup kitchen or take in a wounded animal to prove yourself helpful. Helping out a friend can be rewarding and a natural extension of your friendship.

In some groups of friends, you may have a reputation for being the one who is always there for everyone: the one who always has their personal life together and is there to lend a hand. Then, with other groups of friends, you’re the one who always brings the drama and is too focused on personal situations to help out anyone else. And all the while, you’re still the same you.

We all have that friend who will only go out when they make the plans. Or, they’ll only spend money when it’s convenient for them. It would be one thing to straight up say “I don’t really want to go to a nice restaurant on your birthday because then I’ll be tempted to order steak, since I haven’t had one in so long. And honestly, I don’t have the money for that. Plus, I’ll want red wine to go along with it and I’m trying to cut down on drinking.”

Hey, I’d appreciate that honesty.

But when all that person says is “Dude, I don’t have money to hang out,” then they go to a music festival the next weekend, all we can assume is they didn’t want to hang out with us.

If you’re broke, and your friends still want your company, let them take you out. Obviously, you should never expect or ask for that, but don’t turn it down when someone offers. It took me a long time to accept free drinks or dinners from non-family members. Now, I realize some people really just want a shared experience with friends and don’t expect anything in return. Good friends, who are comfortable financially, feel selfish when they can enjoy themselves and you can’t. Let them treat you, it’s a treat for them too.

For the most part, we are all narcissistic, benevolent, greedy, giving creatures; we’re complicated. We can’t always be the martyr nor the helpless mess. If you always see your friend or loved one as self-centered maybe, you should look through someone else’s eyes to find the good. If you look closely at yourself, you might realize you have two sides too.

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