Selfishness Makes People Selfish.

April 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

Saturday night A., my friend Pam and I were hanging out. A. got up to leave to visit a friend. He held something in his hands.

Ladybug walked on her fat baby legs and stood before her daddy. She put her hands up towards what he held in his hands and proclaimed, “Mine!”

We all sat (or in the case of A. stood) with baited breath all waiting for a sign that she really said it and it wasn’t just a coincidence. And then she said it again. “Mine, mine, mine.”

She said it a few more times to make sure that we understood that she was speaking.

“That’s not yours,” her daddy told her. She put her hands back up, as if to ask if he was sure and said, “mine” again but this time it was more like a question.

“No, that’s not yours,” he replied. The matter was settled.

Although Ladybug is my third child, it still never ceases to amaze me how quickly little ones learn the word “mine.”

Ladybug spent the rest of the night informing everyone that would listen that everything was hers. Of course, there are different versions of “mine.”

There is the “mine” as in, “in case you’re thinking of playing with that I just want to let you know that’s my toy.”

There is “mine” which means “I would like whatever you have to be mine, so please give it to me.”

And the “mine” said in a tone that clearly indicates “if that’s not already mine someone better make it mine and fast!”

Everyday since Saturday night Ladybug has been letting everyone in the world know that everything is hers. Her sister’s lunchbox = “mine”. Her brother’s headphones = “mine”. Mommy’s cell phone = mine.

See, there’s a whole world out there and everything is hers, or it should be.

It’s so cute and socially acceptable for a young child to feel like everything is (or should be) theirs, but it’s a completely unattractive feature on an adult. Or even an older child.

From a young age we’re taught “sharing is caring” and, in many cultures it’s morally reprehensible (or at least a total social faux pas) to want to have something that is “mine” and yet every child I have ever known is strongly attached to the idea of “mine.”

In fact, this notion of “mine” may be ingrained in our  very DNA or the essence that makes us human beings. And on the flip-side the notion of “mine” can also be the great demise of the human spirit as we cling so tightly to what is “mine” that we sometimes forget the rest of the world deserves to have things too.

Scientist Richard Dawkins said “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.”

It’s a tough balancing act.  On one hand, it’s important for all of us to understand at a very early age that, like rapper Nas tells us, “The world is yours!”

At the same time, we don’t want to raise children who as so rooted in the belief that everything is theirs that they lack the ability to be generous and to understand that there is a time and a place when it’s okay to be selfish.

Just as there is a time and a place to be giving.

Michael Jordon said, “To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish.”

As a parent, to me this means that I must teach my children that they should put themselves first in many matters that, well, matter. If Macaroni really wants the part in the play and so does her BFF, it’s okay for Macaroni to do her absolute best even if that means that, for example, she decides it would be better to rehearse her lines alone rather than with her BFF.

It’s okay for her to think, “That part is mine” because if she doesn’t feel that it’s hers how will she put the effort into getting it?

But when she has that part, she has a duty to be gracious and helpful to the other children who didn’t get parts in the play.

I hope to teach my children that there is a place and time in which you sacrifice your own wants for the needs of others. This is usually for material things, things which in the whole scheme of life don’t matter much.

Sometimes you give your little sister the last cookie even if it’s rightfully yours. You do this because sometimes it’s not worth the fight, and karma will pay you back in ten times the amount of cookies.

And there is a time when you stomp your foot, put your hands up and demand in a loud voice “mine!” The lesson is to learn the appropriate time for each.

Macaroni has a sweet personality. She is on the shyer side and often wants to please. Her severe eczema has, at times, made her the target for mean kids who lack empathy. In seeking approval from her peers, this means that sometimes Macaroni says yes when she really means no.

It means that sometimes when someone tell hers “mine” and it’s really hers she will let them take it without a fight. I have watched her face at the playground when she has patiently waited in line and another kids jumps in front of her.

I have watched her knowing she’s upset and doesn’t want to give up her turn but, for whatever reason(s), doesn’t say anything. In times like that the idea of “mine” is perfectly appropriate.

On the flip-side Ladybug is the one pushing other kids out of the way to get on the slide chanting “mine,” as she forces her tiny body in front of theirs, and I have to tell her, “No, Ladybug, it’s not your turn yet. You have to wait until it’s your turn.”

“Mine.”

With Macaroni, I am working on teaching her again what Ladybug is beginning to master, and what Macaroni knew when she was a wee thing, which is that the idea of “mine” has its appropriate place and time.

While with Ladybug I’m working on teaching her the concept of sharing without loosing the idea that in her world everything really is/can be hers.

The idea that “sharing is caring” can be over-rated. The idea that being selfish is bad can be over-rated. Sometimes the most unselfish thing a person can do is to be selfish.

(And, yes, I realize that’s a complete paradox.)

But selfish people suck. No one wants to be around (or with) someone who is only always about themselves. Many of the world’s problems, if not all of them, are caused by selfish people who haven’t learned how to balance the concept of “mine” with what is right.

We are born mastering the concept of mine, it’s the other part that most people need to work on.

I’m still a parenting work in progress. Each child is different and unique with the one thing they have in common being their innate idea of “mine.”

As a mom it’s my duty to teach my children that the world really is theirs, but While the world is (and should be) theirs – it also belongs to others.

How do you teach concepts of sharing and when it’s okay to be selfish to your children?

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