THE BLOG

Have I Always Been This Selfish?

My commutes are the most infuriating parts of my day. The traffic, the missed lights, the minivan in the right lane that has no intention of turning right -- it's as if Houston's motorists have conspired to give me hypertension. And I'm far from being an aggressive driver.

While my everyday demeanor lands somewhere between mild mannered and half-comatose, it becomes something else behind the wheel. I'm fidgety and anxious, high-strung and hard-edged.

This anger is incited by the drivers I encounter, from the snails and the texters to the clueless who don't move when the signal turns green. I'm exasperated when nobody lets me merge, or when that person enters an intersection they can't get through, or when that idiot stops traffic to make a turn they almost missed.

These incidences are infuriating, my reactions to them comical. But what I've noticed lately is that my interpretation of them is, at its core, egocentric. Because when I'm banging my steering wheel in frustration, asking how could that person be doing this, what I'm really asking is, how could that person be doing this to me?

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To be young is to be selfish. That's not a theory based on psychological fact but on observations of the children that now surround me. Exhibit A is my 2-year-old nephew's hilariously declaring, "Me! Me! Me!" when pointing out whatever it is he wants, right here, right now.

This selfishness isn't anybody's fault, and with age, it's steadily filtered out of us. We learn to share when we make friends, and we learn to wait our turn when we enter the ballpark trough-urinal line. Eventually, we settle in the middle ground, striking a balance between respecting others and taking care of ourselves.

But the more attention I pay to my thoughts, the more I worry that I've strayed from that sweet spot. While my actions are seldom selfish, my mindset is. Every aggravation, every inconvenience I endure is interpreted as a personal attack, as if the guy who gets on the elevator before I can get off is determined to derail my universe. And it's wearing on me.

My parents raised me to be caring and compassionate, to consider others before I consider myself. Yet too often I see the world through my eyes alone. And if I no longer have the excuse of youth, what's left to blame for my narcissism?

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This selfishness is as irritating as it is inconvenient, considering I've now entered the selfless arrangement of marriage. Since saying, "I do," though, my mindset's been recalibrating one "Yes, dear" at a time. Actually, I've never said that phrase, partly because I'm not on a sitcom, and partly because my wife, Emily, and I keep things as balanced as possible. She has her areas of responsibility, I have mine.

The functionality of our home, for instance, falls under my jurisdiction. When dishwashers won't wash and light fixtures won't light, it's on me to get the proper repairmen to fix them, because lord knows I can't do it myself.

Conversely, the house's decor resides in Emily's domain. So when we settled on buying a new coffee table, she took charge, ordering it, coordinating the logistics and clearing her schedule so she could accept the delivery.

But on the day before the table's arrival, Emily realized she had a can't-miss work meeting in the middle of the delivery window. She couldn't be there, so I would have to be.

These things happen. Rationally, I understood that, and I reminded myself of it repeatedly. But I couldn't shake my frustration, not with Emily, but with the situation. I was frustrated to have to go to work early so I could then race back home, and I was frustrated to miss my standing lunch date with my mother and uncle. I didn't like having to do something I wasn't supposed to have to do.

That frustration only heightened the next day when a series of miscommunications delayed the operation. Standing outside, looking back and forth down our street as if that would make the truck appear, I was struck by my "Me! Me! Me!" attitude. Somehow, I was 2 years old again.

So what if I had to get up early, and eat lunch late, and wait 17 minutes longer than expected? What was the big deal? These were my problems?

This was absurd. I was absurd. Nobody had done this on purpose, and nobody had done this to purposely put me out. And at the end of it all, what was I going to be left with? A beautiful wife, a beautiful home and a beautiful coffee table. None of which I deserved.

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I don't know when, why or how I became like this, but I do know it's time to change. Marriage is already helping, and if I'm lucky enough to have children, it's obvious I won't have any choice but to. Maybe it's good I'm tuning into it now.

Believing everything revolves around you, it's a heavy, weighted-down way to live. Bothered by every breath of wind, you're always harried, under pressure and under attack, like you're the butt of every joke. There's no rolling with the punches or going with the flow or any other easygoing cliche you can think of. Just think about how it feels when you're legitimately attacked. Now imagine subjecting yourself to that feeling for every minuscule, mundane annoyance you inherently experience in everyday society.

Lord knows I'd feel a lot lighter if I didn't take it all so personally. And I shouldn't, because it's not about me. I'm not that important.

Besides, who am I to get upset at anybody else? That dude who cut me off, and that person taking forever to check out, and that delivery driver who hasn't shown up, they're not carrying out some personal vendetta. They're just trying to get somewhere, and do their job, and grab some laundry detergent on their way home. Just like I am.