The Value of Being Selfish

Political theories was a subject in college that I was not particularly interested in, except for the part when we discussed Thomas Hobbes, who I thought viewed human beings as self-centered and altruistic. Being a Filipino and being raised as the eldest daughter with two younger siblings, I was taught early in life to never be self-centered. I was taught to think of others, especially of my siblings — to share with them whatever I have, and to help them with whatever they need. Later on, that teaching extended to cousins, when my grandparents would repeatedly tell me to “become a role model to your cousins,” and to other people, when my parents would advise me to “help as much as you can because other people are not as privileged as you.”

Because it was expected of me to be unselfish and caring to others, it was a struggle for me when I wanted to pursue a college degree (political science) that was totally opposite of what my family has hinted for me to take since I was in preschool (medicine). It was so much a struggle to bear the cold treatment from my grandfather (whom I loved so much) after I vehemently said I will not sign up for a pre-medicine course, and a greater struggle when, a few days before my college graduation and when my grandfather was dying away with cancer, he congratulated me and told me to become a good doctor that I had to nod my head and said “I will.”

Because I was taught to be giving of myself to others, it took me a long time to finally decide to live on my own. All the time, I was living with the thought that I could not live a good life away from the shadow of a family that is very loving and supportive, but that is oftentimes destructive when so much responsibility is placed on my shoulders just for the mere fact that I am one of the eldest and I need to take care of everyone else. It was difficult to remove myself from the tree trunk that I have been hugging all my life. But it was more difficult to remove that tree trunk from me because I realized that tree trunk needed me more than I needed it.

Because I was taught to never displease other people (or suffer the consequence of not being liked by everyone), I had to bear abusive friendships, when so-called friends drain my energy and my wallet for fear of letting them think I am not their friend when I don’t yield to their demands; and when bosses dump so many tasks in my table because I seem to not complain and, instead finish tasks on time regardless of how many are there.

I’ve been keeping myself updated with Pope Francis’ visit in the country through the Internet and learned that the central theme of his visit are “mercy and compassion.” At 30 years old, I now believe that mercy and compassion are traits that should not be inherently expected of human beings… Instead, mercy and compassion are traits that one develop because they have come to be selfish, and by selfish I mean they have come to love and take care of themselves more than anyone that they can now extend themselves to other people by showing mercy and compassion.

My grandmother is a merciful and compassionate woman. She helps anyone (regardless of religion) who seeks her help, and she extends herself to others, so much I believe there is nothing left in and for herself. My grandmother is a good woman, but every time I see her, she’s more tired than the last time, more anxious, and less able to enjoy our conversations because she is just tired. My grandmother is a merciful and compassionate woman, she always thinks of the problems of other people and how to help them resolve those problems. My grandmother believes that “God provides” and always, always gives what she has to other people. My grandmother has never been selfish, and that, for me, is the reason why she is not enjoying her twilight years as much as she should, because she is living her life for others, and not for herself.

There is value in being selfish. There is value is securing yourself first. There is greater value in loving yourself foremost. Living on my own and doing almost all things on my own, I learned to “shut” the world — turn off my mobile phone, resist the urge to open my laptop and check emails and/or Facebook — and make myself happy by doing things I love — make and drink coffee, eat slowly, shower and shampoo my hair, read, and/or sleep. I have also made conscious effort to make decisions that make ME (and not someone else) happy and share my time only with people who make ME happy.

I make conscious effort not to feel guilty if I cannot satisfy the needs of someone else — whether it’s a family member who needs assistance or a friend who needs my presence — but I also make conscious effort to spend more time with people who matter the most to me. I make conscious effort to say NO when there are demands I could not meet and demands I am uncomfortable and unhappy with, even if it means displeasing or receiving a cold shoulder from other people. I have found great value in placing myself ahead of others because it made me less guilty, less sad, more happy and more able to help other people. It is a continuous struggle to love and think of myself first, but I am hopeful that this year will be better than the part years in terms of fulfilling the dreams I have always dreamed of and achieving goals for myself.

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