I recall memories from childhood where my parents dragged my siblings and me to a store to buy something inconsequential or uninteresting (at least in our minds).
We didn’t want to be there. We made our opinions known, but it didn’t matter. They couldn’t find a babysitter so we suffered. What do kids do in that situation? They act out, complain and misbehave. Selflessness is a trait young kids lack.
Decades later, we couldn’t find a babysitter. We needed to buy a pendant light for our kitchen. We had to bring the kids along. They didn’t want to be there any more than I wanted to be with my parents decades ago when they shopped for a rug. They acted the same way I did when I was a kid. It irritated me to no end. Now I know what my parents thought of my behavior.
That childhood experience taught me a good lesson. The world does not revolve around me. I hope it taught my kids the same lesson. It didn’t seem to but maybe it was a start.
I learned the lesson of selflessness as a kid. I forgot it in early adulthood as I lived the life of a single bachelor. I had an apartment all to myself. I had a job that paid my bills. I could come and go as I pleased. I could pick and choose the people I’d spend time with and the activities that interested me.
I could afford to be self-absorbed because it was just me. I had no responsibilities to anyone. I had dated during my roaring early twenties but did not have any serious relationships. You could imagine my surprise when I finally did make that first relationship commitment.
What? You want me to go to a family picnic on Saturday? Ugh. I have a “thing” on Saturday.
After years of thinking only about me, I had to re-learn how to consider the needs and wants of others. My girlfriends often reminded me of this in not so subtle ways. It was like trying to unlearn an automatic reflex.
The Rewards Of Selflessness
It didn’t take long for me to realize there is a particular pleasure derived from being there for others and doing nice things for people you care about, even if you wouldn’t choose to do these things for yourself.
There’s an optimal balance between selfishness and selflessness. Be too selfish and your partner will resent you. Act too selfless and you may find yourself resentful. It’s not about keeping score or taking turns. It’s about ensuring you both work to meet the needs of the other.
It requires constant work and attention to get it right, no matter how old you are.