Monday, January 18, 2010

Selfishness and Obligation

Recently I was having a conversation on a message board I wanted to write about here.

Sometimes, I think a person can be accused of being selfish when they are just trying to fulfill their own needs. But it's also possible that someone is so self-focused that they become narcissistic - or unaware of the needs of others' around them. 

It's a continuum - at any point a person can be protecting their own healthy self-interest or infringing on the rights of others. The line is not always obvious or easy to tell. 

A great example, when someone raised mormon decides their needs are not being met in mormonism and chooses to stop attending church. Other people (some active LDS) may call this "selfish" but making a personal decision to stop attending a religion is not selfish.

And yes, I have heard people say leaving the church (not attending regularly) and not working for change from within is, indeed, selfish. But is it selfish to take ownership of one's own happiness and beliefs?  Is a person obligated to a belief system simply because they were raised in that belief system?

But, I also agree that me some people are very self-focused, and really can't see how they affect others - and they can be controlling and passive aggressive.

Situations are different and it is not black and white. One person may seem selfish and controlling to one person and not to another.

Quote from the person I was having a conversation with:

"And the ideas that 'I must love myself before I can love others,' or 'my every need must be met before I can help someone else' are demonstrably false.  "

I don't know about being false - but it seems to me, if you are exhausted from spending every waking moment doing things for other people or a religion, you can't really help anyone else. If you (a person) takes time to take care of some basic needs (their sleep, etc.) or their responsibilities - the rest will follow.

When I was a new mom, getting little sleep - there was no way that I could do much else but focus on my kids and myself. Now that my kids are older, I have time to myself, they can entertain themselves (and sleep through the night!!) and I am much better able to focus on other things (myself, my career, education, volunteering, etc.).

Viktor Frankl (the therapist who survived the concentration camps) was, seemingly, able to help others in the most desperate of circumstances. So it's true, a person can always help others.

But focusing on meeting your own basic needs is not wrong - getting enough sleep, eating well, keeping up with health, etc.  **

So it's true that some of these things can be over-used, and used to justify bad behavior. But some of the theory is actually sound.

I think a person can be selfish and generous at any given point, in any situation. I don't think (for most people) that they are (at any time) all one or the other.

I may be "selfish" in terms of my co-workers by leaving on time and not working overtime - but not selfish because I'm going home to take care of my family.

I do not think the concept of co-dependence is overused - particularly in an LDS setting/framework. Any religion that implies that what *you* do has an impact on others' religious beliefs - that it is *your* fault if someone leaves the church is not healthy.

Did my grandmother really cause me to leave mormonism? No, of course not. But she believes that there was something she did, something she could have done. This isn't idle speculation on my part, she told me so - asking if there was something she had done that caused me to leave the faith. The conversation was a difficult one, for both of us. 

Granted, all mormons do not believe this, and many disagree with this, but some still do talk about and teach this on a regular basis.

I'll make a vast generalization here. I believe cultural mormonism encourages people to believe they have control over other people's lives, decisions and beliefs. Until a person realizes how much control they have over other people's actions, decisions and beliefs (not much), there is no way to move forward - to be healthy. 

It is not selfish to take responsibility for one's health and well-being.  To be aware of the needs and requests of others around you - but to ultimately take ownership for yourself.  Deciding to not help another adult, to not take responsibility for *their* actions or beliefs is not selfish. At each point, we can choose what we will participate in or not participate in. 

For me personally, the notion of "obligation" is very different than what I previously believed.

**The person I was having a conversation with did agree that it was important to take care of your own needs, health, sleep, etc. later in the thread.

1 comment:

@Dayngr said...

Hello! Just surfed over to check out your blog and thought I'd leave a comment to let you know I stopped by. Great reads!