Disclaimer: I do not mean to imply that we should all be completely selfish, but I do think a bit of selfishness is a good thing, just as I believe that “selflessness” can actually be selfishness in disguise. Also, it might not work out the way you intended.
In today’s anecdote, an attempt is made to turn an accidental act of selfishness into an act of selfish selflessness, with a lose-lose result.
This happened to me during the weekend when there is an annual major rock festival taking place just outside of the town in which I live. So that town, which is busy enough any given Saturday, was crazy with people. Since most were unfamiliar with the place, the traffic was cluttered with drivers trying to figure out where they were and where they were going. Meanwhile, with my daughter’s christening approaching, my partner and I needed to get into town to get organised.
It can be hard enough to find a parking space on a regular Saturday, but it was nearly impossible today. Then I spotted a space coming up on my left just outside the Catholic Church. We pulled in thinking this was too good to be true.
And it was. Suddenly a young man, a festival goer, came running up to our car hurling invectives and doing his very best angry Donald Duck impersonation. Apparently, he was saving this space for his mates, even though he had to run half a block to get in my face about it.
Immediately I began feeling guilty. Even though I had no way of knowing that the space was “reserved”, I could sense that person’s frustration and shouted back that he could have the space (the window was closed and he was still a distance away). So, even though I had two unhappy babies in the back seat, and a partner at my side who does not like car travel at the best of times, I backed out of the space, performing a selfless act so as to (selfishly) make myself feel like I was doing the decent thing for this guy, even though it meant the four of us would have to crawl through more traffic for an unknown amount of time. And then I realized that was selfish, because I was calling on my family, without even asking, to do the decent thing with me, even though half the people in the car had to voice their opinions in impatient, pre-verbal whines.
Had I been paying more attention to Donald instead of making restitution to him, I would have realized that he did not pay attention to my shouts through the window. He had already given up on the space and was halfway down the street again in full conniption, even though my occupation of “his” parking space totalled no more than 10 seconds. I imagine Donald was so caught up in ranting about how I was a selfish jerk that he wasn’t open to seeing that I wasn’t actually conforming to his perception of me.
And so a third-party pulled into the space I vacated. I drove around the block twice more. I don’t know what happened to Donald. Had I stayed put, my family would have benefited. Instead, none of us did. In this case, it would have been better to be selfish.