My dreams had been a mix. There was of one of my movie dreams. The main character, who was out to pick blackberries, was about to be attacked by a bear. (The dream dictionary said about seeing a bear in a dream-- 'To see a bear in your dream represents independence, strength, death and renewal, and/or resurrection. Bears are symbolic of the cycle of life. You may also be undergoing a period of introspection and thinking.') That fit, since when I woke, I was thinking very philosophically.
I had a friend, at one time, who was oriented to herself and how things impacted her more than anything else. Even with the good deeds she might be doing for others, it was how it made her feel better than others for doing them. Whenever I had a conversation with her, she rarely seemed to hear what I said. Basically, she appeared convinced she was right on everything and on a higher plane of life than more ordinary folk-- like me. I came to see her as selfish.
Selfish. What exactly does that mean? Dictionary says: "concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure."
When I was a little girl, my mother and father told me I was selfish when I wanted something for myself. It was drilled into me that what I did should be for my parents' and the family good. Family mattered more than the individual. If someone did something bad, it would be how did it reflect on the family-- not how did it impact the one doing it. It didn't sound right to me; and when I raised my own children, it was not part of my philosophy.
Except, what is the difference between living a self-centered, self-aware life, where your own good comes first, the philosophy I now want for myself, and being selfish? Waking up the other morning, I wondered if my friend had skipped the steps of struggling, which I have gone through, and went right to it. Was centering first about one's self, and what was good for them, the same as selfish?
We live in a culture where we are told both things are true-- do it all for others-- do it all for ourselves. Even in voting-- should we vote for what we think would do the most for us or that which will do the most for others?
I am no longer worried if someone calls me selfish. It took me a long time, but I understand more what self-interest means. When I do something for someone else, it's because it's also good for me. I don't fool myself into thinking it was magnanimous. Charity can very much be about doing something for ourselves-- you know that warm glow. Same thing with doing it for the family when it makes us feel good. Was that not also selfish? Same thing with working for the environment or animal causes. Is it noble and self-sacrificing or actually selfish because it makes us feel good?
Even now, I tend to believe that pure selfishness isn't always a good thing because it can be very shallow. It can be doing what we think benefits us but with no clue as to the long run even for ourselves. The self aware/self centered person might do the same things, but the impact on their character would be totally different. I think when we talk to someone for awhile, maybe work with them, it does not take long to know which it is for them. Do we recognize ourselves as easily?
So what I woke up asking-- Is being centered first as to what we need and making our life predominantly about what benefits us a bad thing and selfish? Or is it what life is truly all about: learn what that 'one' thing is that will work for us? And when we know it, we will know how to balance the needs of others with our own.
Interestingly, when I finished writing this, I opened up our Costco magazine for this month and saw an article on Wild, the film starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed. I had, of course, read about the film, although I have never read the book. Strayed had a quote regarding Witherspoon that puts a kind of coda to what I've been thinking.
"She's going through her late 30s and moving on to her 40s, when women say, 'I'm not going to look for validation from outside. I'm going to define myself on my own terms.'"I read a lot of books in my 40s, books like Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Those were the years when I was doing clay sculptures (the ones above are mine). I also engaged in some counseling with a psychologist (who said it would take a lifetime to get me to where I wanted to be-- I didn't give him a lifetime just six months) and later, over those years, two professional counselors in various schools of thought.
These were the years to look at Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs and ask where I was at on the pyramid-- even to question its validity. Like that top one-- lack of any prejudice. Does that mean the inability to judge right from wrong or make assessments on what is proper or does it mean being biased without a reason? Lots of things to question once you start really thinking.
someone at Facebook posted the above from Pinterest.
At 71, I think, I am still getting there. On the plus side, I feel far less need for approval from others. I am more aware that I won't please everyone in my relationships but especially with my writing. I kind of like that there is more growth ahead and that I don't have all the answers.
Likely, given my mind, which travels all over the place, I won't have all the answers I might want-- even on the day I die. I think though that it's unlikely I'll be giving up on finding them. The accusation that my parents used to throw at me, that I thought too much, is still there. It just doesn't seem a bad thing anymore :).