The other day, I took food to a friend whose baby was born last week. After marveling at how small this tiny creature is (and he’s bigger now, of course) and being wistful for about three seconds about having a newborn, I handed him back to his mom for a feeding.
We chatted about life, and her labor story, and my kids. She told me about her dad, who has just received a medical diagnosis that makes all of us clutch loved ones a little closer. He lives in the Midwest somewhere, a plane ride or two away from our small town in Central Virginia.
She has told him she’s not in a place right now to come out to see him, with a newborn baby, a husband in some stage of medical training (I can’t keep the intern/resident/fellow thing straight), and an almost three-year-old. And it’s the holidays.
He told her she was being selfish.
She asked me if she was, indeed, being selfish.
I told her not a chance in hell.
Why is it that society tells us women (sorry, guys – this seems to be a pretty female thing) that when we are understanding our priorities, and when those priorities do NOT involve whatever it is that we’re being asked to do, there is a knee-jerk reaction of “you’re being selfish.”
I’m on a kick of figuring out my own priorities, of working to make sure that the things I do in my life are aligned with those priorities. Am I being selfish when I turn down volunteer opportunities or charity functions – because those things do not fit with what I’ve decided are the really important things in my life? Or is “selfish” a derogatory term that really means, “I’m mad because you aren’t seeing things my way” or “My needs ought to be more important than yours, and you’re selfish for not seeing it that way.”
Let’s stop using that word. Yes, there are people who act with no regard for others at all, whose only focus is themselves. This might not be a bad thing, actually, at some points in time. But it’s my firm belief that “selfish” is more a tantrum word, a word that ought to belong more in a 3 year-olds vocabulary than an adult’s.
Selfish says more about the person saying it than the person they’re saying it to.
Not very badass.