Self-denial as selfishness

Here’s a musing for the day: Self-denial is selfishness in disguise. Now I’m not saying this is always true, but it’s something I’ve noticed in my own behavior and thought. Maybe I’m just especially manipulative.

So you’re a kid, say, and your parents want to buy you a ton of presents for Christmas. Now I’d make up a laundry list of stuff, tell Santa Claus, and get a lot of things. Just like every other kid on my suburban block. But when I got older, I realized that my parents would get me the top n things on my list. So if I asked for something, and it wasn’t ridiculous, I’d pretty much get it. Some of you may have had a similar experience. The fact that this is exceptionally consumerist and not the sort of mindset that our civilization should be fostering is beside the point.

So Christmas morning became a ritual of opening things that I already knew about. I realized that if I just asked for fewer things, my parents would still buy me a ton of presents, but they’d be surprises (and I’d still tend to enjoy them as much or more). So I started not asking for much. Isn’t that kind of conniving and manipulative? Yeah, well… yeah. That’s what I’m saying. I wasn’t trying to be nice or save them money or something, I just wanted more presents- but I wanted to seem like I was being nice.

Few things in life are free- everything’s an exchange. You don’t eat as much because you want to get in better shape- you trade food for fitness. You don’t buy a CD because you’re saving the money for a video game- these are lame examples, but you see what I mean. And really, what I was doing by asking for less was saying “don’t spend the money on me here, spend it on me some other way.” Or even just in general- maybe if I didn’t want my parents to buy me new clothes or whatever, I bet somewhere in my subconscious, I was thinking “then they’ll buy me something else.”

Just now, Connor, Joe and I were ordering pizza, and I think we were all doing it. I was thinking vegetarian pizza, Connor was thinking some kind of meat pizza, (Joe was playing a video game and not really listening)… but neither one of us wanted to insist on our choice, because we both thought- what? that maybe next time we ordered, whoever didn’t get his way this time would get his way next time? like a you-owe-me-one deal?

But as soon as you start insisting on what you want, you become “pushy.” Is there a solution to this? I don’t know. Maybe just say what you think, and not get mad at others when they do the same. For serious.

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