“You’re more than 50% selfish.”

The comment had been prefaced by an agreement not to take offense, which I didn’t. Initial thought – umm okay, considering the fact that I’m in India trying to learn to be selfless, not quite sure if I would say that I’m at this point more than 50% selfish. I kept the thought to myself and simply nodded to acknowledge that I heard it.

(Side note: The statement was not an observation, but a comment made based on my selection for my favourite colour, so the commenter was not trying to be rude.)

Over the next few days, I was able to connect many seemingly unrelated things back to the statement and what I was told began to make more sense.

When I go out and serve, I can comfortably say that I’m not more than 50% selfish. Yes there is some svarth involved on some level, particularly due to the feel good feeling that one gets when helping someone else, but especially because of Smile Cards, I’ve been contemplating the idea of anonymity and kindness even more. Smile Cards make it easier to remove the selfish part of service as the anonymity factor reduces the public acknowledgement or proclamation of the action.

But what about the other aspects of my life?

One thing that has been on my mind a lot is my coming and staying in India. My parents, understandably, would like me closer to home. The topic of fulfilling one’s own desires and that of one’s family is one that has been coming up a lot. Coming to India is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, so when graduation came near I decided I was going to do this. I was able to mix my academic interest with this dream and begrudgingly or not, it was my mom who bought my ticket. But I know that they aren’t completely happy. And it’s not abnormal, there are countless NRI volunteers’ parents who feel the same way. So how does this relate to being selfish?

I came to India to realize my dream, but what of those around me. I left home at the age of 17 and spent the last four years in Berkeley. After India, it’s grad school and at some point marriage. When do my parents and I get to spend time together, live together – my parents’ dream?

I am always saying I want to live my own life, but what does that mean?

I wanted to spend a year away from family and friends, submerging myself into a community and project, but what about all those around me. I’ll be honest, I get frustrated at times with all the phone calls I get from my parents’ friend who want me to come to their home, etc and get upset when I cannot take the time to visit their town. I want to fully experience the place that I am in and don’t want to leave to see family friends. I want the isolation so that I can really understand my environment, but isn’t that me being selfish. I get mad at home for telling all these people to look after me and at these people are simply sharing their love, for me or my family, why should that make me mad?

What does isolation mean? Is it really a realistic life?

Take for example Indicorps or Peace Corps, you live away from home in a different country for a year or two years, with limited vacation, etc. The submersion experience. I can imagine that you learn a lot from the experience, about oneself, about one’s relation to the world. Lots of personal growth, but what happens when gets thrown back into the “real world,” the world with family and friends and obligations?

There are many times where I want to just retreat. Go away from everything around me and hang out with just me. Vipassana retreats are a great retreat, spending time with you and yourself for 10 days straight, but isn’t that a bubble too. Not everyone can go off and be a monk, or can they?

How does one balance one’s own self interests with all that one “should” do? If you aren’t going to be a monk, then you’re living with the world. Where does the line get drawn in terms of what is being selfish and what isn’t?

I don’t know, I don’t have the answer. But the comment that the friend made that night has brought a lot of things in perspective. I am selfish.

I’m horrendous at keeping in contact with people. I write long emails (at times) to share what I am doing, but don’t often take the time to respond to other’s emails or find out how they are doing. Why would people care what I’m doing, if I’m not taking an interest in their life? Quite frankly, there are many times where I think I should email this person or call this person and then get lazy, too consumed with what I want to do. We are all products of our environment, we grow because of those around us, who provide us with the support and encouragement to takes leaps of faith, but then I fail to continue to acknowledge those networks.

Then there is being judgemental and not getting along with all different types of people. I struggle to relate to people who’s ideas are completely different from mine (not opposite, but different paths). Being adjustable or anukud to situations and people is something that I am trying to learn more and more. It is an idea that truly relates to all aspects of life and can make life much more enjoyable if practiced at all times. Being adjustable is being selfless. If one can make oneself appropriate to all people, one molds into the image that others enjoy. To make yourself appropriate, you have to give up selfish desires. For example, in an argument, even if you know you are right, but all parties will be happy with an ambiguous response, instead of forcing everyone to agree to your specifics, agreeing to the ambiguous response will not make you any less of a person, but makes you appropriate to the situation. A better example is when disagreements occur between siblings. As an elder sister, I always hear, “Heena, you’re older, let your sister just have it,” even she isn’t 100% deserving of it. In this situation, to make myself appropriate, I have to give in. There are two ways to look at this scenario:
1) with frustration because I have to be the bigger (or “better”) person
2) with content that I was able to make my sister happy
Each response determines my mental state of mind, ultimately I decide how I am going to feel afterwards by the way I see the situation.

So my inability to get along with all sorts of people comes back to me being selfish. So that person was right. In ways that I had not seen before, selfishness pervades many aspects of my life.

More than 50% selfish.


Now its time to make that change.

Note: This entry was written over the course of several weeks. As I finish it today, I can tell that the tone of the final portion is different from others. This entry in a way marks my process.


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