Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Selfless Versus Selfish

I rarely, if ever, do this... but I feel like writing today. Writing a long-winded, rambling post of the thoughts trapped in my head. No pretty pictures and probably only a post my mom will bother to read... but I'm ok with that.

The topic: Selfishness... or selflessness... or a combination of both.

In my new journey in life, there is one word, one trait that I have been very sensitive to lately. I have spent so much time soul-searching, researching, rediscovering what I want from my life (and by extension) the lives of my daughters. And one word that always comes back to me in contemplating the success of all areas of my life is selfless.

Perhaps it is easier to discuss the antonym: selfish.

Selfish. I find myself thinking this about so many people I encounter in my life. I have recently (within the last couple of years) recognized that life is very short and we have finite time to spare for the people in it. I have made a conscious effort to pare back friends or acquaintances that simply don't fit.

And the majority of these people don't fit in my life because they are selfish. That seems to be the criteria that I always come back to.  Have you ever had a friend that you are talking to and their eyes are vacant and you just know they are not listening to you... they are simply waiting for their turn to speak. They could not care less what you have to say, but they really want you to pay attention to them and listen to their voice?

Yeah, somehow I seem to attract these people in my life. And, as I have started to recognize it more, it has also made me wonder: is this just a new phenomenon in our society? Self-centeredness? I mean, we do have a new culture of always propping our children up and protecting them from ever falling down. We are supposed to make them feel like the most important person in the world. Children always win now and are never losers.

But is this taking away all empathy and genuine kindness and caring for others?

I see it outside of my close friendships as well. While I was on the board of my daughters parent-teacher group, we could not get parents to volunteer to save out lives. We would BEG for parents to volunteer just ONE HOUR out of an entire school year. In a pool of approximately 1000 parents or guardians, we would have the same 10 people constantly giving their time. You get the math there? 1/10 of 1% of our school community could not find 1 hour in an entire year to do something selfless.

And, lest you think that one organization is an anomaly... I volunteer on a few different projects in our city... and I see the same dozen people out of tens of thousands at all the committee and board meetings.

Aren't we taught to put others first anymore? I would certainly put my children first... a significant other and other family next... and then maybe myself. And even friends before myself in many situations.

And it's just the simple things... when you know a friend is having a hard time, do you make quick check-in: "Hey, just wanted to see how you are doing?" Do you know how that little gesture can mean so much to someone?

When Acadia started kindergarten in August, I made a big deal in social media about how much I would miss her and how difficult it was to say goodbye to my baby. And that day, I got multiple texts, calls, FB messages, Instagram messages asking how I was doing. It made a rough day for me go so much nicer. It was also a testament to my current friends and people I choose to surround myself with. They care. They took 30 seconds of their day to check in with a friend.

It's sad, but there are just so many people out there who just do not care anymore. They do not know what selfless is. They put themselves first and foremost. The sad part is all that they are missing out on it life.

I have discovered, as cliche as it is, the more you give in this life, the more you get. You give of yourself, your time, your friendship, your money.... whatever you have to spare... and that is exactly what you get back.

Of course we are always evolving and changing, but I am happy with the people that I surround myself and my girls with at this point. They see kind people, they see me trying to be kind... and hopefully I am setting up a template for how they might lead their lives.

I will consider my life complete when I have raised three kind, empathetic, selfless ladies who are giving back more to this life than they are taking. Ladies who can surround themselves with the same type of people and be complete and fulfilled because of it.

Wow... did you make it to the end? What is your take on selfishness versus selflessness?


  1. the thing that I think about the most, is that every person has their own story ... we think we might have people figured out ... but we don't. what i focus on is trying really hard to judge no one ... or label them. it is hard sometimes ... because like you, i think i see selfishness in people or the lacking of humility etc ... but i try to catch myself & not pass judgement ... and just focus on those around me & myself .... specifically the love for those i have around me & the bettering of myself ... and just let the others just be ... and try to give everyone patience & kindness. for example ... i am a parent that currently does not volunteer at my daughters school ... i do not do this because meetings occur one of the only nights that i am able to be home to cook dinner. it is more important for me to do that for my family and for myself ... it's not because i don't want to volunteer with pto ... it's because right now i choose my Monday nights with my family. also ... i know there were/are certain times when i have had that blank stare when people are/were speaking to me ... especially 15 yrs ago ... and in all honesty that would be because i was trying to conquer a bout with severe anxiety ... i probably should of never even been out & about in public ... because i would could barely even focus on anything. i'm sure i came off to some people as possibly insulting or selfish in my behavior - but never meant to be insulting .... but again, no one really knew that story of mine .... just my thoughts .... xo. ps ... i like these posts!

  2. Did you take a liking to that word from me, or did I from you?

    When I have money again, I'm considering a "selfless" tattoo.

  3. I have several thoughts on this. My first thought is what Danielle said above: everyone has their own story. Further, everyone has their own priorities, thoughts and beliefs. As someone who is constantly referred to as a 'compulsive volunteer' and I believe I am one of those few people you referred to as participating in committees and boards, I feel the frustration when we can't get volunteers for things. Some weeks, I spend more hours on volunteer work than I do actual paid work so it's hard not to be judgmental when people say "I have too much on my plate" or "I'm already on a board" or "I can't afford that" or whatever their reason is. But I have to remember that not everyone is like me.
    Everyone has their own priorities and families and obligations. Michele, you are lucky to have a flexible work schedule to be able to do the volunteering for your girls' school and be able to spend ample quality time with them. I, myself, am very fortunate to be able to work for myself and make my own schedule, allowing myself to be part of the organizations I think are important and I enjoy. Other people are not so fortunate. When I had a 'real job' - which many parents have - I worked up to 70 hours a week, leaving little time to see my family. I would guess that it is this way for many families. So volunteering on a board, committee or even one hour a week may be a stretch for them.
    Again with the priorities: some people may think that their time/ talents are better spent elsewhere. Elsewhere meaning places/ opportunities that you and I don't know exist. Perhaps some people feel that all their time is best spent with their family, raising their children to be good human beings (that is something our society is in danger of lacking). Perhaps some people work for charities or non-profits, doing selfless work for minimal pay. And perhaps some people are just as you said: selfish. (See separate comments below.)

  4. Which brings me to the point of being just as frustrated or confused as you probably were when writing this post. You're right, it's mostly the same handful of people around town working on the different boards and committees. I know, because I'm on all those committees and see the same faces! For instance, tonight I was a meeting where I saw someone who I will see at a different meeting tomorrow night and then on Thursday we will be doing a radio show for a different event and then meeting on Friday to discuss yet another event. Once in a while, we get new fresh faces like yours Michele (and Rebecca!) and it's wonderful.
    What I'd like to relay to those people who happen to be the 'selfish' ones is that it doesn't take much to make a difference. Yes, it takes a lot to conquer some of the big issues our society has like homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, etc. but, there are many things you can do to make a difference. My main goal in life to live meaningfully, to make everything I do count and make an impact somehow. I challenge everyone to try and change your perspective of things. You may say to yourself, "oh, I just don't have the time!" Really? Take a step back and look at your daily / weekly routines. How much television do you watch? Do you play video games? How much time/ money do you spend shopping? How much money do you spend on your cable bill? Morning coffees? Lunches/dinners out? I'm not saying to sacrifice your whole lifestyle but I bet if you took a look at these things, you could find an hour or two a month to volunteer. Maybe the PTO is not your thing. Maybe you'd rather visit a nursing home or serve food at the Friendly Kitchen. I meet a lot of people who want to be Event Planners, why not sit on an event planning committee? It's a lot of fun and many community events have a purpose for the greater good. Donate $10 to a non-profit organization. When organizations are raising money, often times it's the smaller denominations that make the bulk of donations.

    Still don't feel like you have the time or desire to help? Small gestures can go a long way. When you are walking down the street, smile and say hi to someone. Maybe they'll smile back or give you a dirty look.. Or maybe, they could be having a horrible day and your smile and acknowledgment will make a world of difference to them. Maybe they will then smile at someone else and brighten their day and so on. Let someone go in front of you at the grocery store. Are you really in *that* much of a hurry? Pay the toll for someone behind you. It's only a dollar!

    Ok, stepping off my soap box now because I've got lots of work and volunteer work to do as well as try to squeeze in some precious time with my family. Thank you Michele for being such an awesome friend and volunteer! And your great mom skills are something I aspire to have!

  5. Hi Michele- I go back and forth with this...so here is my ramble:) I have struggled all my life with saying "no"; I like to make people happy and I want to help everyone...even if it makes me miserable. It wasn't until I had my daughter that I realized how important it is to be able to say no. I am a single parent and have been since my daughter was just a few months old. I always said that I wouldn't have children unless I could actually be around to raise them (I didn't want to work crazy hours and only see them on weekends); well life didn't go exactly to plan so I have to be really protective of my time with my daughter. I work full time (I am lucky in that I can work from home a bit and take lots of time off) and am lvery fortunate to have a job that is fulfilling, rewarding and challenging...but it's my job. My life is my family-my daughter. I am the Program Manager for a nonprofit that works with people that are very ill and many of them live in poverty. I always imagined that I would be active with PTO and volunteer weekly in my daughter's class...unfortunately, I have to pick and choose when I can help out with things. I say no to so many things because when I'm not at work, it's about her, and that's it. I often feel like a crappy friend because I am not as available to people as I want to be- honestly sometimes I am just fried. I spend most of my time trying to SLOW everything down; we don't have cable, we sit together each night at dinner, we read, dance, listen to music; we don't go to every event we're invited to, or even half of them, because we run all week- it's a rat race. I don't know, I think at the end of the day like Jessica said, it's about the little things. My daughter goes through her toys every few months and puts together bins of things for our refugee kids that come over here with nothing- I'm lucky that with my work she is very aware of how fortunate she is. We share a tiny apartment together, but for just 6 she is aware of how lucky she is to be healthy, safe, to have a roof over her head and a parent that puts her first, no matter what. I get so frustrated (especially from a parenting perspective) but I think everyone has a story and you just never know what that story is...end of ramble:)

  6. well said jess! i 100% agree with all that comes out of volunteering ... whether it's the volunteer, the organization that is benefiting ... or even the smile or donation made ... it's always a win win, for me personally. i actually volunteer for a few different events a year ... as well as skipping out of work sometimes to volunteer in my daughters classroom ... and you always walk away feeling great ... whether it be because you see the success that was gained for the organization you were working for ... or because you feel good helping others ... an obvious all around great situation.

  7. I agree with all 3 of you in that everyone has their own story. And being a single mom... I definitely dedicate a large portion of my time to my girls... And the days away from them to my job. However... I still stand behind my claim that everyone can find a spare moment to perform a selfless act. I used volunteering here as an example... so I will stick with that example. I mean, as I mentioned one hour per YEAR? I feel like thats doable. And not necessarily at a PTA... cleaning up your childrens' sports field, serving at a soup kitchen or SPCA... anything that tugs at your own heart strings. I know 100% in my heart that people spend well too much time on FB or watching TV that they have an hour to spare... and not even every week. And I often take my children with me to volunteer to try to teach them. We can sit and watch TV... or go put gloves on for field clean up day. Especially when you are reaping the rewards of those volunteers (playing on a clean field, watching a free movie night sponsored by the PTA...) With that, though... I never judge people on these issues. I know there are people who might have social anxieties that keep them sheltered... or a myriad of other issues. So I am not (and do not) judge people singularly... but it is more a comment on society as a whole. I feel a general lack of compassion for others that bothers me. And, Amy, it IS about the little things... donating to refugees or the women's shelter or giving blood... Have your child make one of those nice cards to send to the troops... there are so many little things you can do to make other lives a tiny bit better... but that is not the norm.

  8. Agreed. Anyone can find the time. Unfortunately many cannot see beyond their own lives; ultimately, it is their loss.