Selfishness is Radical Self-Love
"We talk about burnout and compassion fatigue but I'm wondering if those are really cover words for abuse and exploitation." - Kathy Allan, 4/9/21, Medical Mental Health Matters: SE Community Conversations webinar.
I have been able to identify a lot of my internalized beliefs between therapy, blogging, friendship, and being in community with kind, compassionate people. Many of these are harmful or ones that I don't want to keep, ones that I want to replace with nourishing, life-giving beliefs.
Selfishness is something we are often socialized into believing is wrong, bad, lazy, or unkind. We are taught narratives about selfishness and selflessness, often that our degree of each is somehow an indication of a person's goodness or worth.
It's no accident that I have developed harmful beliefs about being selfish and that the ways in which I spend my time "should" be in specific ways: overworked, underpaid, undervalued. Malcolm Harris explains the way this plays out: "So our entire lives are framed around becoming cheaper and more efficient economic instruments for capital. That, taken to an extreme, has pretty corrosive effects on society, particularly young people." In this way, believing selfishness to be a bad thing is directly tied to internalized capitalism (this was a new one for me recently!)
(Note: Don't "should" on yourself!)
Capitalism is made possible and reinforced by other systems of oppression, including racism, classism, ableism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, white supremacy, and more.
It's one thing to become aware of where our beliefs are leading us, and another thing to challenge them when they don't align with who and how we would like to be. Unlearning what has been reinforced for years, often decades, is not a fast nor linear process. There are many options and how we choose to move forward is going to be unique to each of us.
Start with identifying your capacity and your sphere(s) of influence. These might fluctuate over time or within different contexts. Affirm your inherent value. Your productivity is not a reflection of your worth. You are enough exactly as you are. you are worthy of rest. Invite kindness to yourself.
Consider what systemic or institutional policies/practices you have influence or control over. Is taking a sick day for mental health something that your organization normalizes? Rather than glorifying long hours, unsafe working conditions, and working to the point of being unwell, create a culture within your organization that prioritizes individual and collective wellness. Before the pandemic, workplace flexibility was found to lead to greater productivity. With the vastly increased availability of work-from-home options, flexible options and accommodating employees is even more easily attainable now.
If advocating for or doing any of the above is selfishness, then each is an act of self-love, kindness, and compassion. If setting and enforcing boundaries or seeking change at any level are selfish, be selfish. If prioritizing your wellness is selfish, be selfish. We do not have to continue to buy into the narratives we have historically been fed and can change the ones we digest.
What are your beliefs about being selfish or selfless? Are these beliefs nourishing and life-giving, and if not, what would you like to believe instead?