By Vaishali Hamlai
My mother once told me, being selfish is evil. It’s written in every book, in each moral guide that it’s forbidden to be selfish. Being selfish brings distress, they say. Wanting something, needing something is being greedy and being greedy is bad. One must follow the path to selflessness.
As a kid, once, I wanted an ice cream bucket all to myself. I didn’t want to share it. But my mother wanted me to share it with my friends. At that young age I realised one critical but simple thing, that doing the right thing is generally the harder thing to do. It’s a tougher path – the un-selfish way of life. I followed through that route, conscientiously. I shared my ice cream, and then my sandwich, and then my notes, and then my pens, and then my friends. This is where I fell apart, I never saw anyone reciprocating to this new sharing business I had started. Apparently other mothers didn’t get the memo, which my mom got, about being selfless.
Everyone else seemed to be living the same selfish life. I tried to ignore it, but somehow felt short to it, felt like I had to alert mom about the other selfish people in the world. She needed to tell them about sharing too. And I learnt another lesson; not everyone lives an earnest, selfless life. The life to be lived is lived as one feels suitable at the given time in the given situation. It all depends on the time, place and situation. Like for example, when my neighbour came home, my mother didn’t share her ice cream with her, in fact she didn’t share anything, and her ice cream was right in her hand, and she ate it in front of the neighbour. It was harder for my little brain to understand when to share and when to not share. But I was getting there.
Then came a time in adolescence when I started working my dream job. Mind you, by now I had learnt the ways of life. My definition of self-ish had evolved, which means one can be a little selfish for their own good, but not a lot. So here the degree of selfishness is based on a complicated mathematical algorithm. Apparently, the algorithm varies for different people, but I survived, sailed through that ocean.
As a mother, I had the fortune of having the same confrontation with my kids, a bucket of ice cream, and unwillingness to share. At this point I reinvented the wheel started by my mother, teaching them about not being self-ish, and being selfless, because it is a virtue for lifetime.
But by also telling them to be aware of not being taken for granted, being aware of not been treated ill, being aware of not being a victim, being aware of being vocal about others’ selfishness, being aware of telling them to stand up for themselves, and not being plainly naïve in the name of selflessness.
After all, it is self-ISH.