Monday, June 08, 2009

Selfish? Really?

On Friday afternoon at work some co-workers and I were stuffing envelopes for a mailing that we had to get out the door that afternoon. We put some music on, set up an assembly line and ended up laughing and joking to beat the monotony of the stuffing, sealing, labeling and stamping. We talked about our plans for the weekend. Eventually the discussion turned to kids. One of my co-workers had a baby girl 6 months ago, and I was asked if I would have kids.

I think Todd and I are back on the “No” side of the fence. We had been teetering on the fence for a long time, and right now we’re firmly living in “No” land.

“Really?” D asked me. “You guys are in such a good position for kids now, I am surprised.”

“Actually, I like the way our life is right now, and so does he. I am pretty set in my ways and really don’t want to add a baby to that right now.”

“You know,” another co-worker at the end of the table chimed in, “It’s perfectly OK to be selfish like that.”

Selfish? Really? Because I have not procreated and do not currently plan on doing so you’re going to use the word “Selfish”? I bit my tongue and concentrated on sealing the envelopes in front of me. I am sure he meant nothing malicious by saying that. But the more I think about it, the more annoyed I am at his using the word “selfish” to describe my way of life. I am also a bit annoyed that he felt the need to tell me it was perfectly OK. Of course it’s perfectly OK. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s my life, and my choice. While my path is different than his, isn’t mine still just as good because it suits me?

Why do people feel the need to use the word “selfish” when referring to a childless couple? Why can’t they say “active” as in “They’re active in other parts of their lives that they never got around to having kids.” Why can’t they say “hard-working” about a childless couple, as in “They are both focused on their careers right now that they haven’t gotten around to having kids.” Why can’t they say “adventurous” about a childless couple, as in “They are busy having adventures. They’re avid divers, sailors, hikers, and paddlers that they haven’t gotten around to having kids.”

No, the impression is that childless people are selfish. I take such an issue with that word because I am not a selfish person. This co-worker of mine has watched me change the water bottle on the water cooler even when I wasn’t the one to empty it. I am one of the few people at work who can lift and carry the full bottle, so I help out my peeps by keeping them hydrated. This co-worker has also observed me wiping up a spill on the hardwood floor that someone else had left behind because I was afraid that someone would slip on it and get hurt. Yet, I was called selfish for not having a child.

I wish I had said, “Well, I don’t know about being too selfish to have a child. I don’t think I am a selfish person. I am devoted to my husband, my friends and my family. I have 12 nieces and nephews as well. All of these people know that I would do anything for them. I don’t need to have a kid to prove that I am not selfish.”

But I kept my mouth shut. While that was probably the better move on a professional level, on a personal level my blood boiled. And continues to.

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Anonymous crisitunity said...

BF and I are not planning on children, and I happily took on the label of "selfish" when I made this decision, in that I am not willing to sacrifice what is required to have the dubious reward of children.

I thought of myself as being selfish in the Ayn Rand way instead of in the way it's generally meant, which in my view actually means "self-centered". It's obvious that you're not self-centered. Being selfish in the manner of wanting the best life you can have for yourself, and in believing that what you want is okay to want and to get, is how I think of it.

But maybe you're not even that; saying that you like your life just the way it is is completely different than being selfish.

In sum, that guy didn't think before he spoke.

June 8, 2009 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Thanks, Crisitunity. As usual, you articulated what I as thinking way better than I could have hoped to.

June 8, 2009 at 2:29 PM  
Anonymous crisitunity said...

Aww, shucks.

June 9, 2009 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

I see the whole have kids/don't have kids thing as selfish either way. Being selfish isn't always a bad thing, and as long as you two are comfortable with your decision, how other people feel doesn't matter. It's such a personal decision... and a really tough one at that.

June 9, 2009 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Thanks Sara. And I do think that was what my co-worker was getting at. It's just the use of the word "selfish" that made my teeth itch.

June 10, 2009 at 8:04 PM  

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