March 16, 2011

Being selfish for other people

Selfishness.  Is it really a bad thing?  I think obviously it has negative connotations – for me, there’s a selfishness which is almost a form of self-hatred: not being disciplined, wanting instant gratification, avoiding difficult work/situations and being in denial.  But there’s also very positive associations with living with only you in mind.  Especially in teaching which is so relationship-focussed, the best way to improve as a teacher is to put yourself first.  Why? 


To be blunt, there’s a certain amount of selfishness that I need to engage in to say, “Hey.  You know what.  F__ lesson planning right now.  You’re going to be better off having a good night’s rest.”  Or, because of the circumstances on the weekend, I need to tell myself, “Take 3 days off.  The students are going to cope.  There’s no point going in to teach them if you’re not functioning properly.  Look after your mental and physical health right now.”  And that’s OK. 


I would like to extend this philosophy to all aspects of my life, no matter what job I’m in.  Sometimes you just need someone to tell you it’s perfectly OK to take time for yourself.  So yes, dear silent and anonymous readers, do something selfish (in a good way) today.  Draw boundaries.  Say no to things.  Tell people to piss off and you can’t deal with their problems for the time being because you need to sleep.  There’s no point feeling guilty.


I wrote the below extract in my journal after teaching for a few days.  It’s directly related to to being selfish, in a good way.

The realisation has arrived at this contemplative time of night that I am no longer living for just myself, but also for my students. If I am to be the best teacher I can possibly be, the idea of an ego and a selfish life must be abandoned. For it is only through an understanding of the consequences of my actions upon other people’s, whose future is affected by the decisions I make, that I am able to see and critique the selfishness of my actions. By delaying my sleep and instead procrastinating until far too late into the evening, I am depriving my students of a teacher who is well rested and relaxed. Similarly, I have not been undertaking disciplined physical exercise for an excessively long period, nor have I been maintaining close familial ties or attending to other actions which would increase my capacity for being a healthier person and accordingly, a better teacher. I am grateful to my new profession for making me a more empathetic person and allowing this recognition of my own selfishness. This newfound clarity will bring more richness into my life from now on: I have a reason for living a more disciplined and healthy life due to others’ dependence on me – not just as a teacher, but as a role model, leader, counsellor and, at times, a surrogate parent.

Understanding now that the refrain during meditation that I perform the act to be more calm and relaxed, in order to be more efficient and happy for myself and those around me and the overused cliché that to lead a more meaningful and content life one must help others first, I endeavour to consider other people: my students, those in my school community, my friends and of course, my family. These are the people who truly matter to me. Their lives are directly affected by my own life, and it is for them, particularly my students who are on the difficult journey to finish high school, that I breathe in a new set of guiding principles.

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