Welcome to Towards Simplicity. I blog my goals, especially my reading and studies, and my ongoing downscaling and using up of material stuff and working towards a more minimalist lifestyle.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Selfishness - the modern way of life

I was having a 'vent' with my hubby over lunch today and I thought I'd continue it on blog.  Not that I am in any way accusing him of selfishness, but I was despairing over the prevailing attitude of 'why should I?' 'I'll do what I like without referring to your needs' and 'What's in it for me?'

A while ago someone told me he didn't want to use his Linked In account as he was only being asked to complete surveys by a former Chinese contact.  I can hazard a reasonably well informed guess that this Chinese wasn't exactly pushing it and, his English friend having done one thing to help him in the past, he probably (and reasonably) thought the guy might be willing to do a similarly small, 5 minute task to help him months - maybe even years - later on.  But no, he was not.  I mean, why would anyone want to help someone out with something that costs us nothing but a couple of minutes of our time?  It would really be asking an enormous amount of us to go to a minute bit of trouble to help someone else, wouldn't it?

Anyone at the universities I've been around will have seen those notices on the inside of toilet cubicle doors where PhD researchers plead with fellow students to spare a few minutes to help with their research and offer them money in order to actually get them to do it.  Market research surveys also come with 'rewards' etc.  The basic premise is: No-one will do anything for nothing, so you'd better not expect it.  Not to put any sort of fine point on it, I think that STINKS!

As I've mentioned before, I've had people almost fall off their office chairs in surprise when I just greeted them out of friendliness, or say, 'Don't worry, I'm almost finished with the photocopier' in response.  Why?  Because most others would only even say 'hello' to them if they wanted something.  In this second case, the person concerned expected me to have greeted them as I wanted to use the copier.  I didn't.  I just happened to see them from the door as I passed on my way to the resource area.

Charity activities are another thing that puzzle me.  There are many who raise funds for good causes (and there's in no way anything wrong with that - don't get me wrong here!), but rarely do you find someone who does it as a sacrifice.  It's pretty unusual that someone sells all their own stuff and donates the proceeds - although I know it does happen.  No, they take on a challenge that they want to do and will enjoy a lot in order to raise money from others.  They don't do something they would find actively unpleasant.  No, they do something they will personally get a great deal out of.  Perhaps they're keen cyclists and so they do a long-distance ride, or walkers and they do a very long walk.  So, in effect, many are engaging in their own hobbies and the sponsorship gives them a good excuse to do it.

Then come those who donate.  How many will donate just for the good cause of it?  Most have to be entertained, impressed or even pressured by family or friendly ties to sponsor the fundraiser.  Very few will just give because they see a real need and are wiling to sacrifice something of their own for it.  Sure, to give at all is better than not (although I'm very far indeed from thinking any charity will even come close to solving the problem they're devoted to tackling), but wouldn't it be nice if there were one or two more who would do it truly from the heart and not have to be in some way coerced?

More and more people put their careers and interests ahead of their families' needs these days too.  We meet countless overseas scholars and workers who have left spouses and even children behind either for a limited period or, basically, for good, in order to do their own thing and further their own career elsewhere.  Never mind that their marriage partner needs - and has the premier right to - their company and direct, personal support or that they have a responsibility to be very personally involved in raising their own children.  No, not a thought to that!  At best it can mean inconveniencing and upsetting the whole family by moving them all together - just to follow someone's job progression, and at worst it can mean that a child no longer has a real dad - he now has a penpal instead.  Just plain selfish!

Separate nights out, separate holidays and so on get more and more common as family members refuse to find middle ground and cater for others.  No, I want all my own way and I'm getting it, so you better just get used to being left behind.  I remember an old friend saying she preferred to travel alone so that she didn't need to take anyone else into account, she could just do as she pleased.  By insisting on her own way at the cost of isolation, she missed out on the pleasures of sharing, discovering something she might have otherwise overlooked as uninteresting and even that warm feeling that comes from seeing someone you love get pleasure from something we gave in on.  Selfish people get none of that, so it's self-defeating after all!

Going back to my old 'friendship account' and the last one on e-mail too, to some degree (i.e. the e-card problem):  Wouldn't it be lovely too if everyone loved actively instead of passively?  Or even if a few more would!  What I mean by that is that active love seeks a way to do good to and help others.  It takes the initiative and it does something.  Passive love just responds to those kindnesses and says, 'Oh, wasn't that kind/good of you?'  It does nothing in return and doesn't see any reason to.  It's totally passive.  It can see good elsewhere, but it has no further effect than that.  It sees someone setting a good example, but fails to be motivated.   I was reminded of that kind of thing when I saw this quote on a language forum just now:

As with any endeavor, there must be both reward and effort. Without the two, there will be an imbalance. Reward without effort leads to complacency, and effort without reward is a sign of insanity. 

So, those who love passively - selfishly - get complacent.  They almost seem to think it's their due to get kind attentions from others.  They get rewards, but make no effort.  Extending even genuine warmth and concern for the other person would be asking too much from them.  After a while, even their passive response goes cold.  (This also happened to me in a way as I used to get As in school tests just for turning up - never needed to work.  So, I got complacent and didn't understand the need to work at times, or that others had to do it all the time!!)

Does the last part of the quote justify the things I was complaining about above?  Does it mean that there must be some gain, preferably financial, in it for someone to help someone else?  No, I don't think so.  Two thousand years ago, Jesus was recorded as saying that there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.  Giving in friendship and caring has a large amount of reward in itself, but the majority, sadly, miss out on that by their constant expectation of 'something in return'.  Having said that, I do think it's pointless to continue to reach out to someone who is only superficially responsive - that would be insane, and a complete waste of time and effort that could be put to better use.

Vent over!

3 comments:

Jules said...

Don't get it myself as there is nothing like the joy you feel when you do something kind and totally unexpected for someone else, just because you are able to(or maybe I'm just a hedonist?!) Seriously
I really enjoyed reading this post. Yesterday I let a lady go ahead of me in the queue and initially she looked at me as if not believing, before she smiled and thanked me!
My favourite quote
'If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.'
Dalai Lama

Rachel said...

Maybe I'm just lucky - I've encountered very little of the sort of attitudes you describe.

Elizabeth Braun said...

You have been very lucky indeed, Rachel!