Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Sneaky Guise of Selflessness: Part 1

This post is really a sequel to yesterday's about "Waiting for Permission". It's where the permission issue hooks up with the selfish vs. selfless (or at least altruistic) issue. What do I mean by the selfish vs. selfless/altruistic issue? You know the one, I'm sure.

Usually the things we wait for permission to do are viewed by some super-ego part of ourselves as "selfish," self-centered, for ourselves and our pleasure alone.

"What good can this possibly do for others?" we might ask. Artistic, creative, and self-expressive endeavors seem particularly vulnerable to such accusations.

Of course there are numerous leaps of false assumptions and false thinking that take place in our minds along this path, and sadly, our particular culture's bias toward the pragmatic and away from the aesthetic and creative is of no help at all.

And since most of us, and especially most of us who are women and girls, are encoded--perhaps hormonally, and certainly culturally--toward serving others, being praised and feeling rewarded for doing for others rather than for ourselves, to choose to do something that appears to be primarily for one's own pleasure or simply because it's who you are is difficult. More than difficult. Terrifying even. I have been stopped in my tracks more times than I care to count.

Enter then what I call "the sneaky guise of selflessness." Under the cover of darkness (in this case, the darkness of your own lack of self-awareness, your disconnection from your self) your own personal dream or desire finds a guise of selflessness. You find a way, in other words, to offer up your personal "calling" toward particular creative endeavor as something for a whole bunch of people! You get to do it because you find a way to do it for others; thus, it's no longer selfish of you!

And believe me, life hands you countless opportunities for doing so. (Being in a helping profession ensures that you will have an endless supply of opportunities to bite the bait. My years as an Episcopal priest in parish ministry are riddled with examples. I could get very specific about some of them, and how I came to recognize what I was doing--another day, another post.)

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there's something dishonest or distorted about all altruistic activities, nor about all creative endeavors offered to others. Not all of them are really your own private yearnings in distorted disguise. Sometimes you really do want to teach others how to paint or draw or write or sing. Sometimes it really is a part of your calling to lead groups or to share your own knowledge and love of a particular field or craft with other people. And thankfully some people really are called to the visibly altruistic professions--to be healers, nurses, doctors, teachers, librarians, you-name-its! It's what makes their hearts sing (at least some of the time). Thank God!

That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about something much more insidious, precisely because it happens beneath your own radar. And after it happens enough, it becomes a rock solid habit that is both hard to notice and hard to break.

It has even been a part of my struggle around blogging! Is it really and truly OK for me to blog what I feel like blogging, to spend a little time at the keyboard putting my thoughts out there for others to read, simply because I enjoy the process of doing so? To choose whatever topic seems to want to be written on a given day, or whatever words or ideas I seem to want to play around with, without regard for whether it might do anyone out there in cyberspace any good at all? (Ah, there's the rub!)

Could it be enough simply to tell a story because it's a story that I feel called to tell, driven at times to tell, partly because when I scratch deep enough down I discover that part of who I am, part of my DNA, is a writer and teller of stories?

More times than I wish to relate or you probably wish to read, I've steered away from an expression of simple joy or a quirky observation in my blog in favor of something that might actually, if I'm lucky and say it honestly and well, help someone else. Who's to say that the expression of simple joy or the quirky observation wouldn't have been just as "helpful" as my attempt at wisdom?

I even had a small tussle with a reader of one of my blogs early on (one since abandoned), a reader who really didn't like even the slightest hint that I was going to write what I felt like writing and wasn't all that concerned about what she and other readers might want me to write about. I held my ground, but it really got under my skin. I fretted and worried for days that I was a hopelessly self-centered and self-serving blogger. (Maybe I am! And if so, well, so be it. Might as well stop pretending.)

Suddenly I'm aware of what a huge topic this is. And how much I could say about it, how many stories I could tell. Let's just say, there's more to come, and call it a day.

1 comment:

Karen Martin Sampson said...

I know what you are talking about and I have experienced the same dilemma and questions about what my real motivations might be for doing something for someone else. I think it is about balance in life...we all need moments of solitude, moments of socialization, moments of helping, moments of accepting help. Too much of anything becomes a burden...or just plain boring. None of us are a single temperament or personality. We all are a mixture and we have to learn to live with that and develop the best parts of ourselves for ourselves and therefore, ultimately for others too. Without my art, my books, my time with friends I can become a pretty cranky gal and not too much fun to be around! When I have a share of these things I need in life then I cheerfully pitch in and help out or work hard for someone else, and that adds to feeling good about myself. There is nothing wrong with that!