When my mother taught me the “golden rule,” which was very early on in my childhood, perhaps before I could even speak, I wish I had realized that it didn’t mean that just because you treat someone the way you wish to be treated, reciprocity would necessarily occur. However, that’s the way I took it and I ran with it and now, about twenty-some odd years later, I’m realizing that the golden rule is simply a way of saying take the high road – an ethical guide on how to conduct one’s character because the truth is most of those people will not treat you with the same mutual respect you may be showing him/her and those people will not share the same passions and fervor that you exhibit in their lives. I wish my mama were around so that I could ask her if she was aware of this reality when teaching her children this Universal moral code.
Witnessing my mother enact the golden rule and in turn, put everyone else before her began at a very young age and a very impressionable one, at that. This continued until her final days on this Earth when her greatest worry, even though every organ in her body was slowly, painfully malfunctioning and her independent mobility ceased to exist and when the machine connected to her body was serving as the much needed oxygen to her cancer ridden lungs – even then – her single greatest worry was still her children.
“This is going to be hard,” She managed to utter through semi-chapped lips to my brother and I one afternoon. Her entire life, the short fifty-six years of it, was conducted selflessly. And this was the paradigm in which I seamlessly learned how to follow.
Imagine my awry sense of self worth four years later whilst sitting in my therapist’s office, wondering why I cannot stop caring about people who make it more than clear, through their actions or lack thereof, that they really don’t care about me. Cognitively, I get it – I understand that a person who is always “busy” typically means that he or she just doesn’t have time for me because let’s keep it real folks, we make time for the people and things that we want to make time for. So, like I said, on an intellectual level, I am fully aware.
Emotionally, however, not so easy breezy – I find myself saying or thinking things like, “But I care for this person” or “But he’s family” or “Maybe if I just make myself a little less available, she’ll understand” or “Everyone deserves a second chance” and so forth and so on. And so begins this tug of war between my head and my heart, which reminds me of a quote a dear friend of mine text me once, saying that it reminded her of me and it definitely hit home:
A couple of years ago, I was in a hotel room with my brother during a road trip to Lake Tahoe. We were in a discussion about being selfish versus being selfless and he curtly looked at me and said, “You should try being more selfish, Linds.” This is something my brother has never had a problem with and I could never understand where he learned this type of behavior that was in stark contrast to my own.
My therapist pointed out to me during a Saturday afternoon session, shortly after our sibling road trip, that selfless means exactly that – self less with great emphasis on the less portion. It was one of those ah-ha moments!
I was always under the impression that being selfless was wholly a good thing, a healthy thing when, in fact, it meant I was more concerned with everyone else’s needs prior to my own. This was a dangerous line to walk. Over the next couple of years, I often would recall this conversation with my brother wondering if he wasn’t on to something. The problem, however, is that my learnt behavior of selflessness is basically innate so here I am, still in therapy, still trying to unlearn selflessness.