I remember reading a disproportionate number of books as a kid in which one of the character’s fatal flaws was willingness to sacrifice themselves for the well-being of others or caring too much about their friends. Think Harry Potter or Percy Jackson – the lone hero’s proclivity for altruism resolved the main conflict of many of those stories, but there is inevitably someone who is angry at them for putting their own welfare on the line.
I have also watched shows like Queer Eye and What Not to Wear in passing, and somehow everyone’s substandard appearance and overall lack of excitement about life can be attributed to the fact that they are too giving of their time and energy to other people. Even in casual mediums, such as Buzzfeed articles and daily conversations, it’s not uncommon to come across a statement suggesting we should all prioritize our well-being before that of anyone else.
In all of these cases, someone always makes a big fuss about how people should do more for themselves and less for others. The concept of doing more for yourself isn’t a problem, but when did selflessness become a vice? That always confused me – I would love for people to perceive me as giving of myself, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Those who choose to be selfless are usually portrayed as the protagonists, so someone must have thought it was a desirable enough trait to appeal to millions of TV watchers, young readers and anyone who listened to stories before that. This conflicting narrative sends mixed messages to audiences – it’s unclear what we’re supposed to take away.
At that point, it’s difficult to discern when desire to help others becomes a flaw, and at what point looking out for yourself becomes an issue. As far as I can tell, neither putting yourself first nor selflessness are bad things in moderation. Sure, there’s a limit – you shouldn’t let yourself be used or drain every bit of energy you have before you handle your own needs, but it is very possible to participate in self-care while still showing love to the people around you as much as you can. It seems worth it to suck up a little discomfort here and there or go out of your way to make someone else happy – our culture could use a shift toward givers instead of takers.
In my experience, choosing generosity and kindness is also a fantastic way to improve your own mindset, and it’s where I find most of my happiness. I always feel good being introduced as my roommate’s designated “heavy-things-mover,” seeing someone smile when I give them a compliment or having a friend seek me out first for comfort in the face of bad news. These are some of the most important and affirming interactions in my life, the experiences that define my humanity – I’m not sure why we are so determined to tell people being selfish is necessary for our own well-being when living as a person for others is so rewarding.
It could be because we’ve been taught to be consumers, because we’re afraid we’ll be off-putting or because we are subconsciously attempting to justify our own laziness, but honestly, I don’t know. My best guess is that it varies by person, as does intrinsic motivation to be selfless. Point is, if you’re a nice person, keep it up. Don’t let people tell you you’re too nice, or at least don’t take it to heart. Maybe one day the rest of us will join your ranks.
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