Sometimes people have encouraged me to be more "selfish." But whenever anyone says this, I resist. When pushed, I grudgingly admit that we do have some responsibility to take care of ourselves. But still, when I am in situations in which I have to choose between some kind of self-care and what someone else wants from me, I have a strong tendency to act in favor of what someone else wants from me, thereby sacrificing or postponing self-care. Only when pushed to situations of utter desperation will I finally say, "I just can't" to someone else, and even so, I still feel bad about it.
But today, I finally realized something. When people challenge me to adopt a more positive attitude towards "selfishness," I think they are really trying to say something about integrity. There's an important relationship between integrity and self. The opposite of integrity is being a divided self, or an ill-defined self. Integrity is about wholeness, and integration. Having integrity includes knowing who you really are, and having a clear sense of your moral boundaries. Integrity is tied to self-care, and self-respect. It includes not being easily manipulated by others. And so a person who has a hard time taking care of herself or himself, and always wants to please others, can actually be a person of questionable integrity!
I prize integrity immensely. So it is a bit of a surprise to me to realize that I am not as much as person of integrity as I really want to be. My habit of putting others' requests ahead of my own sense of what I feel called to do betrays my own integrity. I have generally been pretty good at not letting others pressure me to do things that I know are outright wrong -- and I implicitly thought that that was all that integrity requires! But until recently I thought that letting people pressure me to do things that I know are "good" (even if doing so undermines or postpones what I really feel called to do) is okay, maybe even nobly self-sacrificial. Now I understand that doing this is actually a violation of integrity too.
I remain uneasy about the word "selfishness," however. It still seems to me that this was a word coined to express the negative extreme of a person who is in the habit of not giving others enough consideration.
But it is good for me to consider the value of attending to self, and to acknowledge that recognizing one's own inherent value is at the core of the concept of integrity.
If we want to bring our best selves more fully into the world, which is what integrity is all about, this requires attending to self to some extent. I think that is what wise people in my life have been trying to tell me lately!
5 years ago