Selflessly selfish

We’re only as selfless as our need to serve.

But our need to serve is the greatest form of selfishness that we can offer the world.

We’ve heard it all before. There is nothing so selfless that it is not selfish.

We serve our ego when we serve others.

Or perhaps the one that connects the most is that we need validation for our goodness, and that’s why we give of ourselves.

Either way, we wouldn’t offer ourselves to others if we didn’t believe that we had something of value to share with them.

Similarly, we wouldn’t want to share something of value if there wasn’t a part of us that wanted to see them benefit from that value that we may be able to create for them.

Let our selfishness be our need to serve others. Even if our ego is stroked in the process, let it not be stroked at the expense of their dignity, and let us not be fulfilled at the expense of our humility.

And never let self doubt prevent you from sharing the unique gift of who you are with the world.

Trappings of Entitlement

Ingratitude seeps in when you look for evidence of deliberate kindness despite there being no evidence of cruelty from others. We’re so conditioned to find goodness against the backdrop of evil, or generosity in the midst of selfishness, that we’ve grown to believe that only the evidence of deliberate kindness is an indication of care or concern from others.

Most often, it’s the restraint of anger or the withholding of harshness that is more evident of the kindness that lurks beneath, because it means that someone in an anguished state still recognises your worth enough not to dump their harshness onto you.

When we feel entitled to overt expressions of kindness, we automatically take for granted all the servitude that we receive without complaint or expectation of reciprocation. Being mindful of the small things always reveals the bigger things that we should value. Be mindful of your blessings.

[This is deeper than I realised]

Pity

One thing no one really tells you about being a parent is that there is no sympathy for a dented ego when you find that you’re not as influential over your kids as you wish you were. I see parents feeling sorry for their kids to the point of condoning behaviour that will only harm their kids later in life, but they persist nonetheless. In fact, many are celebrated for it and endowed with accolades for being selfless. Selfless, I kid you not!

Really? Is it truly being selfless when you protect yourself from feeling bad because you had to set unpopular boundaries with your kids? Or is it more selfless to set the boundaries in spite of knowing that you will be unpopular with your kids? Given the huge divorce rates these days, of which I have contributed more than my fair share (shut up!), single parenting is ever more common. Take the above pitiful cycle and apply that to a single parent, and suddenly the problem is more than twice as large.

Being a single parent has its perks. There is no debate about who’s turn it is to discipline or check up on the kids. Or whose opinion is more correct in deciding how to teach the kids important lessons. There’s also the comfort of knowing that you’re not going to be let down by a partner that doesn’t pull their weight or leaves all the unpleasant tasks for you.

And then there’s the not so perky things about being a single parent. There is no one to debate with about who’s turn it is to discipline the kids. It’s always your turn. Deciding on how to teach them important lessons is between you and Google, if you dare. And there’s no one to blame when you drop the ball about something that needed to get done.

Of course, it could be worse. Worse than this is having a partner but still being a single parent, and there are many of those relationships around. The kind where the one parent refuses to do anything that would make them unpopular with their kids, while the other does the tough jobs that raises their kids into responsible adults. Then there are partners that want to protect their kids from reality so that they don’t experience the character building events that the parent experienced as a child, and later wonder why their kids grow up entitled and ungrateful.

The list of dysfunctional permutations goes on and on and on, but the pity is always the same. The pity that drives the self loathing that encourages kids to want to like their parents, instead of respecting them. The same pity that drives the kids to be well mannered but unappreciative, or polite but disrespectful. These contradictions in character traits hint at the underlying conflict that plague adults later in life when their childhood was spent being protected from principles because their parents were afraid of being unpopular.

More important than all of this though, is that when that dented ego of the unpopular parent nags at the conscience to ease up and accept that some things cannot be changed, it is in fact a sign that the parent’s work is not done. Instilling a sense of gratitude and respect, sincerity and authenticity, and a healthy self esteem is exactly what parents are responsible for imparting to their children. Not having those attributes as adults makes for very inept parents (and that’s being really polite about it).

The unpopular choice is most often the right one when it comes to parenting, but new age liberals will have us believe that children have a right to participate in the important decisions of their upbringing. That’s like saying that children have enough life experience to be able to have an informed opinion about why they need to learn a lesson that they refused to accept as a responsibility in the first place. It’s one thing explaining the rationale to a child, but entirely something else when seeking approval from the child for that rationale.

The world is screwed up because we have incomplete adults raising children to be big babies in adult bodies. We don’t have a problem with millennials, we have a problem with the parents of millennials, but everyone is so focused on the millennials and blaming them for how they turned out that we forget that millennials did not raise themselves.

Going through life feeling sorry for yourself robs you of a fulfilling life, and robs the next generation of desperately needed wholesome role models to learn from and look up to. Pity should be reserved for those that we believe are incapable of being better than who they are. When we believe that to be true about others, it confirms that we have achieved a state of smug arrogance while being a social liability. There is no age limit to being able to improve your current state. From children to great grandparents, being better than who you were the day before should be ingrained in our being. It can only become ingrained if it is the means by which we are raised from our earliest years, to the expectations that others have of us into our latter years.

No exceptions. Any exceptions are reserved for those that are physically incapable of understanding the concept to begin with. Everyone else needs to step up and leave their pity party in the bathroom, where it belongs. A pity party is never appropriate for more than a party of one. Too many adults looking for sympathy and recognition of their valiant struggles at being adults simply don’t get this. And that is why those of us that do will always have to pick up the slack for the majority that don’t.

Parenting is not for wimps or self indulgent fools. But unfortunately even rats can make babies.

The Edge of Being Broken

Life has a way of beating you down while lifting you up. It’s often a morbid combination of how we perceive the value we wish to add to the lives of others, versus how they perceive that value themselves. As much as we may strive to separate the two, it is impossible to do so. There is nothing that we do that is not influenced by how we want to fit into the world around us, even if just our perception of it.

I’ve been told that my writing has lost its authenticity over the years because the brutal honesty of expression that once defined my thoughts that bled into my posts has been replaced by a subdued diplomacy that makes it more tolerable for others. Without realising it, that appears to have shaped my interactions in recent years as well. Being more tolerable. I’m often reminded of Plato’s words when he said, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.”

Truth is most often defined by how we view the world before it is defined by how the world views us. Whether the sky is black or blue is not a matter of truth. That’s simply a matter of fact relative to a construct of reality that is shared by all of us. How we experience that blue or black sky is what defines our truth compared to the truth of another. If I avoid the cold isolation of darkness and only come out during the day, the blue sky will always be welcoming and comforting to me. But if I loathe the light and prefer the shroud of darkness that hides the brutal nature of man, the blue sky will taunt me while the black sky will provide a place of repose. In both instances, my truth is defined by what I need from the world, and not by what the world needs from me.

What is needed from me is a guessing game that has lasted my entire life without any sign of abatement anytime soon. At times I have chosen to actively contribute towards the lives of others, while at other times I’ve withdrawn from the fatigue of not having my contribution appreciated. At such times I despise our innate nature that demands significance so that we don’t feel inconsequential to those around us. To be consequential, or to make a difference determines the difference between a good night’s rest and insomnia. When we believe our contribution is appreciated we sleep like babies. Let our contribution be ridiculed or dismissed as futile, and sleep escapes us in favour of late night contemplations of how we arrived at such an unappreciated point in our lives.

Karl Marx got it right when he said that last words are for fools that haven’t said enough. Foolishness sets in when we persist in trying to convince others of our truth when they’ve convinced themselves that we do not have something of value to offer them. Foolishness also sets in when we convince ourselves that our truth is relevant when we give others credit for a level of competence, gratitude, or integrity that they don’t have. That’s when we find ourselves passionately trying to convince others of the merits of our perspectives when they’ve already decided that we’re fools to begin with.

Perhaps authenticity is lost when I project my experiences of the world as being a collective experience of humanity. The assumption that I am like others is often made to avoid the arrogance of assuming that I am different. Being different is only pleasant if that difference is celebrated by others. The moment it is celebrated by others, it implies that they aspire to the same levels of definition in their contribution to this world, which means that I’m not different to begin with. I’m just more successful at achieving that which others strive to achieve themselves. More importantly, my symptom of being the same is more reflective of my need for inclusion than it is of my need to recognise any uniqueness of offering.

Last words are only needed when we’re not willing to let go of the perception that others may have of us. For this reason, the one that withdraws from a debate first is more likely to have recognised the limitations of their skills of persuasion or the limitations of their counterpart’s ability to grasp the point that is being made. Either way, it’s an acceptance of what is, rather than a persistent desire of what should be. When we stubbornly believe in achieving value that we know will benefit others, in spite of them not being willing recipients of that value, we define the basis for our struggle in life long before those around us reject our efforts to influence the quality of their lives.

Reaching breaking point is a combination of investing more in the alleviation of the burdens of others, than what you invested in providing for your own needs first. Living selflessly dictates that you should strive to alleviate the burdens of others before you strive to acquire comforts for yourself. Walking that thin line reminds me of moments from my childhood when I walked on the railings surrounding the park outside our school, balancing precariously as I wobbled from side to side while trying not to fall off, until losing my foothold unexpectedly and landing with my legs apart and my jewels firmly smashed onto the railing itself. For all its glory and trinkets, life is pretty much as simple as walking on that railing. The thrill of striding confidently without slip entices us to keep getting back on the railing after it smashed our jewels for the umpteenth time. Until eventually, the memory of the pain of having smashed jewels between my legs replaces any desire to experience the glory of stepping on the rail to begin with.

The edge of being broken is finding yourself in a space where you do not wish to participate in the morbidity of human engagement any longer, but are compelled by that same nature to trudge along the unwilling path because not doing so will result in the same demise that engagement threatens to offer. The edge of being broken is defined by being an unwilling participant of a system that defines your quality of life with or without your active participation in such a system. Respite is offered in the form of acceptance of your limitation to influence that system, while subduing your desire to prevail over it.

What we define as our quality of life is often defined by the level of luxury that we’ve grown accustomed to in life. When we embrace the responsibility of providing the same level of comfort to those around us as our fulfilment of their rights over us, we find the edge of being broken in the realisation that the sacrifices that we may eventually be willing to make for our own levels of comfort will result in an imposition of hardship or discomfort on the same group that we are committed to serve. Their perception of our truth will rarely be aligned with ours, and so the strain of the system bears down when we aim to recalibrate our contribution towards the system while feeling compelled to maintain a level of contribution that appears to be unsustainable.

We define the system by subscribing to the perspectives that we have of it. We hold on to those perspectives because they also define how we wish to be perceived by others. Ultimately we break ourselves, but in our broken state, we retract from the system that we established and choose to blame it for our demise, when in fact our demise was caused by our unwillingness to let go of the perspectives that chained us. Conviction is the bitch that nips at our heals when we’re trying to walk away from a life that appears to be serving others more than it appears to be serving us.

[This thought process made a lot more sense in my head. Probably just another fatality of my contaminated perspectives.]

Seeping Arrogance

No one simply decides to be arrogant, even though the obnoxious nature of some may convince us that such a deliberate decision was taken at some point. Arrogance is one of those under estimated traits that contaminate our character as we progress in our efforts for success in this life. The more correct answers we have for the struggles of others, or for that matter the assistance we are able to render to those less fortunate, or even the spirituality that we manage to garner in our efforts to be detached from worldliness, all lead us a step closer to growing pompous about our achievements or the value that we believe we add to the lives of others.

Having anything to share is a step towards arrogance, especially if the motivation to share it is forgotten. I find myself grappling with what was once, in the not too distant past, easy concepts and principles to apply in my life. Being patient with those less grounded, or having a kind word to follow some tough love used to be easy. But this year has seen all that and more being taken for granted as I found myself immersed regularly into situations where my willingness to contribute was being abused, and my due rewards were being dismissed or denied. Rewards are not always material in nature. Sometimes it can be as simple as seeing our contribution appreciated, implemented, or shared further. Our egos require such fickle affirmation otherwise it becomes that much more difficult to subdue. 

At some point, it becomes easy, and understandably so, to justify why endless sacrifice is not a worthy strategy to bring about the change we wish to see around us. A touch of arrogance, or perhaps narcissism is needed to maintain a balance of sanity. That touch relates to the belief that we indeed have something of value to share. Some could argue that this is confidence and generosity of spirit, rather than arrogance, but if we consider that such a notion is based on how we perceive our self worth, then I could easily counter argue that it is a belief that we have regarding our skill or attribute being superior to that of another. Arrogance follows very closely behind such a belief. The difficulty lies in recognising what value we are capable of contributing so that we give back to the society from which we took, versus assuming that the level of success we achieved was exclusively a result of our own efforts. Dismissing both and believing that we have nothing of value to contribute is an exercise in ingratitude, and an unhealthy ego, which in this context would be the antithesis of arrogance but equally destructive. And of course is the leading cause of depression and anxiety. 

If I look at someone and wish that they were more like me because I think that I’ve achieved something noble or impressive that others will admire, then I’m simply feeding my ego by seeking opportunity to validate the value that I have placed on my own achievements. The more grateful recipients I find for my contributions, the more superior my contribution can be perceived, by others and myself.

However, the fact that arrogance is largely a perceived trait rather than a practiced one adds its own complexity to the debate. As just one example, I can’t count the number of times when I was perceived and accused of being arrogant simply because I chose to actively resist common wisdom. For me, it was an attempt at convincing others to reconsider something that I believed was flawed even though they believed that it was a widely accepted truth. I felt a need to resist the common thinking because accepting it would not only compromise my principles about not following blindly, but also my desire to improve on almost anything and everything that I encounter. Of course to them, I was simply being argumentative because they assumed that my motivation for such a challenge was driven by a need to be right, or a need to be different.

This makes me wonder if arrogance is ever truly arrogance in intent, or is it in fact a reflection of the arrogant nature of the one observing the so-called grand behavior? I’ve previously stated that arrogance is a defence mechanism. It’s a tool employed to distract attention away from a weakness or vulnerability, or to demand significance when we feel threatened. But within the context of this discussion, it’s that weakness it vulnerability on the part of the ones passing the judgement of arrogance, or on the part of the one perceived as being arrogant? I’m inclined to believe that it is the former.

Perhaps arrogance is never one sided? Perhaps it only comes into play when the observer refuses to look beyond the obvious in order to understand what is driving the apparently arrogant behaviour so that we first seek to understand before we judge, rather than assuming that we’re better without even trying? 

Taken for Granted

It’s not always a bad thing to be taken for granted. It really all depends on who is taking you for granted, doesn’t it? When we incline towards selflessness, being taken for granted is comforting. It means that those around us find us to be dependable for what it is that they need from us. If we’re not inclined towards selflessness, that same feeling of dependability turns into a feeling of being used. I guess that means being taken for granted is more dependent on who we are, rather than how others treat us, not so?

What I need from a given relationship is what I use as a benchmark to determine how I am appreciated. The less I need, the more likely I am to contribute without any expectation of either gratitude or reciprocation. The moment I need something, and I don’t get it in the portion sizes that I want, I hold back and withdraw. That’s when I start feeling used. Problem is, that is based on the assumption that the other person knows exactly what it is that I need from them, and they also know why it’s important for me to get it from them specifically.

Almost everything we get in life can be obtained from multiple sources. Feeling loved can be achieved through affection and acceptance of strangers, but the value of such love is significantly less than the value from significant others. Again, it points to the worth we place on others, rather than the worth they place on us. I think this is important. It is important because we usually fail to consider our investment or contribution towards the circumstances that lead to us being taken for granted.

It is very easy to feel oppressed or persecuted when our needs are not considered. However, if we constantly strive to put up a front of independence and aloofness so that we don’t seem needy or desperate, then isn’t it reasonable for others to assume that we need that much less? Think about it. The amount of neediness I express is proportional to the amount of neediness that others witness. How we judge that need is a separate matter. Our judgement thereof is based on the biases we hold on to relative to the objective truth of the matter at hand. In other words, our prejudices and hurts determine whether or not we see something as positive, negative, or neutral.

So back to the point at hand. The pervasiveness of political correctness in the world is a result of the majority needing to feel appreciated or respected for their struggles because they generally lack the courage to take accountability for their contribution towards the state in which they find themselves. Political correctness is a polite but insincere way of demonstrating appreciation while disagreeing with what is happening to begin with. We’re insincere like that. We don’t want to be taken for granted the way we take others for granted. Awkward truth.

The point is, we’re only taken for granted in a bad way when we need more than we are willing to give. If our true purpose and conviction in life is to uplift and serve humanity for the greater good, we will contribute and invest in others regardless of reciprocation or reward. We will find comfort in knowing that someone else’s life is slightly easier, or their struggles are somewhat eased because of something we did, anonymously or not. Whether or not they reciprocate should not be the defining motivation for us to act, because in living among a social structure that enjoys such selfless contribution, we automatically gain from the harmony that results.

We rarely consider what we take from society, or from the selfless contribution of others, but are quick to assume that we’re taken for granted the moment we have an expectation that is not fulfilled. Being taken for granted is a compliment. It’s tacit acknowledgement that we can be relied upon to produce something of value. Value that is so pervasive, that we grow accustomed to it being there, while only realising its worth when it is removed from our lives. Being taken for granted is only a reality when we expect something in return, but don’t get it. If we manage our expectations, we’ll find that feelings of abuse from being taken for granted will be fleeting, while our focus on contributing towards others in ways that fulfil our lives will increase.

The logic is simple. If we truly love doing something, we’ll do it regardless of who notices or acknowledges. However, if we truly love getting attention for what we do, we’ll only do it as long as someone is noticing. Perhaps this is why in a society of attention whores, there is so little fulfilment in life.