The Case for Selfishness

Posted: September 13, 2014 in green
Tags: , ,

There’s a lot I could say about living in a remote mountain town, but one of the nice things is that everyone has chosen to live here, cut off from the rest of the world by a 3+ hour drive, because they want to enjoy themselves. Accordingly, everyone is so busy planning and executing said recreation that you run into a disturbing amount of flakiness. Plans are made with the assumption that about 100 different things could come up that would require cancellation. When you really want something to happen, you have to voice that it’s important that people not flake out.

Coming from the city, where this sort of will-o-the-wisp behavior is seen as disrespectful, I was, of course, perturbed at the lax attitude with which Durango denizens approached social commitments. Why were people being so obviously selfish? Didn’t they know it was rude to not give me time they said they would? Did I do something wrong in the planning stages? After spending two years amid this lackadaisicality, however, I’ve learned to swim with the current, and it’s actually quite nice in these waters. I’ve run about 20 minutes late my whole life, so it was comforting to operate in a place where everyone stays pretty calm about regular punctuality failure. And when things do come together, you know that everyone present truly wants to be there, rather than showing up out of an uncomfortable fear of upsetting others.

It’s a subtle, unspoken conspiracy of selfishness that becomes part of normal social relations. Maybe it’s a small town thing: you’re inevitably going to run into everyone you know just going about your life anyway, so it feels less imperative that you carve out special times and organize events just to make sure you see the people you like.

These days I’m all about sitting in my open-windowed apartment, listening to some blues and the birds outside, making small talk with my dog and sampling the different sitting options throughout the house for hours. Serving tables requires forty hours a week of both socializing with strangers and getting along with a tight-knit cohort of coworkers, so the solitude really allows for some emotional/mental processing. But it also necessitates a lot of declined invitations and social avoidance.

I’m not afraid to be honest. I want to be alone. It’s not about me rejecting others. It’s about knowing what I want and what’s good for me. My friends are all doing the same. If they flake out, if I’m not invited to something, I have more trust that they are doing what makes them better individuals. It’s not about me, because when I do what I want, it’s not about other people.

Assuming a certain amount of selfishness in general social operations would 1) prevent a lot of petty conflicts between friends not close enough to thoroughly understand each other and 2) ease a great deal of aggravated insecurities and bruised egos.

Because we live in a society that treats selfishness as something nice people don’t do, we are more apt to take things personally that have nothing to do with us. This attitude encourages us to build our identities in a hall of mirrors where we try to understand ourselves through others’ behavior towards us. We never get to build a center, a steady, heavy idea of self that can only be felt and never seen, because the reflections we get from others are always necessarily distorted. The best way to feel out that center is to make a distinction between doing things you truly want and doing things you feel required to do.

Really, we’re all on a sinking ship here, and you’ve got a nickel of time to spend before death catches up with you. Be genuine, be selfish, and be grateful when you have great times with others; all the rest—the petty conflicts and bruised egos—is just wasted energy that could be spent getting what you want.

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