I am not a selfless person. In fact, the older I get, the more I realize that I am a very, very selfish and vain person.
In psychology today, we learned that most people have an overly optimistic view of themselves – they think of themselves as smarter, more talented, and better looking than everyone else, and, in fact, a realistic or pessimistic view of oneself is very rare in healthy people and quite a bit more common in those who are depressed.
I have depression, and although it is well controlled now, it will never be cured, exactly. One of the examples my professor provided hit me straight in the gut because it was so reminiscent of my darker days:
A person who is depressed might not dress well or put effort into looking good, because they realize that no one is going to pay much attention to how they look. That’s a true fact, but incredibly depressing.
I was also reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Oscar Wilde (it’s about drinking but can apply to many different scenarios as well):
After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.
Sometimes I feel like everyone has a role they play in everyday life. My role, which is one that I picked up early on, is that of Nice Girl (or, now that I’m entering my twenties, Nice Lady.) A Nice Girl puts other people ahead of herself. She dresses modestly, does not raise her voice, and is unfailingly kind. She does not care about discrimination or the approval of others because she has a very strong sense of self, and she knows that the act of giving is in itself its greatest reward.
So that’s what I try to be. However, since I am but mortal, I am always falling short of my goal. Let’s face it, it’s nice to feel appreciated for your efforts, especially if you feel like you’re constantly putting in over 100%. And even if you are unfailingly kind to everyone, and are always there for people whether they’re your friends or complete strangers, there will always be people who are put off by that. You can’t make everyone like you. And that hurt me a lot when I was younger, because I tried so very hard to make everyone like me that I forgot to like myself.
Selflessness is an art, and it requires a lot of practice. I will never be perfect at it, just like I will never be perfect at a lot of other things. I learned this recently when a friend of mine made a terribly offensive comment and I had to decide my course of action. There was a part of me – the part that is perpetually five years old – that wanted to scream “YOU’RE A BIG MEANIE FACE” and cry. There was a part of me that wanted to explain why the comment was problematic, and why it hurt me. And there was a part of me that just wanted to forget it ever happened and continue to be kind to this person, because our friendship was important to us both, important enough that I could realize that they were also imperfect and also still practicing.
I chose the third option. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because aside from my parents and a few close friends, no one will ever know what the comment was, or how much it hurt me. That was really problematic because I, like many other people, think of my life as a movie in which I am the protagonist, and it was disconcerting to think that there was never going to be a big reveal scene (with a soundtrack by Hans Zimmer) where the person realized their mistake. That person has probably forgotten that they said the comment by now, actually, and in time I’ll forget it too.
I am not a saint and I am not a movie character. I am a person. I actually think that my imperfections are strengths, because they allow me to relate better to people who are suffering and to realize when I’ve done something wrong and improve for the next time. It would be boring to be effortlessly kind all the time, wouldn’t it? Where would be the challenge, then?
If my life were a movie (or a play) I think this is what I would like my character description to say:
Amber puts her well-being first, so she can help others more efficiently. She dresses comfortably, is not afraid to raise her voice, and is kind to as many people as possible, including herself.. She cares about discrimination and the approval of others because humans are by nature social, but she is proud of her identities and knows that in the end she is in control of her own life. Most importantly, she knows that the act of giving is in itself its greatest reward.
I don’t want to be a Nice Girl anymore. I don’t want to be nice at all. I want to be myself, flaws and all, and make the world a better place anyway. Not because I’m playing a role, or because people want or expect me to, but because I want to. That’s the most genuine type of kindness there is.