Is it possible to be truly selfless in the 21st century? Are you able to donate more than your wealth, to give your time and yourself to causes outside of your personal needs and desires? I’m not. I am guilty of selfish behavior and complete obliviousness to the needs of others. I walk around town plugged into my handheld entertainment device, dodging the shapeless masses walking toward me. I quickly avoid eye contact with people more disheveled than myself. Did someone fall down? I’m already half a block away.
I have a reputation amongst my closest acquaintances for being misanthropic. It is true that I detest the current state of the human race, but I didn’t choose misanthropy. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide it would be great fun to hate people. It was a gradual decline. A result of years of ridicule and rejection, giving of my love and treasures with no reciprocation, no appreciation, and no acknowledgment. If I seem bitter, it’s not without reason. Some days it feels like the human race gave up on me long before I gave up on it.
I am third generation misanthrope. My maternal grandfather once wrote a letter to my mother encouraging her to dumb down, that people would not appreciate her for being smart and definitely wouldn’t appreciate free thought. My mother passed this wisdom to me, fat lot of good it did. Given the choice between kowtowing to popular opinion or lifelong unpopularity, I’d much rather be left alone with my thoughts. Thinking is a delightful hobby. Thoughts can lead to ideas and imagination can lead to innovation. That’s how we got some of the most brilliant theories and inventions in the world. Sadly, a lot of people are afraid of thinking and thinkers. And those people will try to beat the intellectuals—physically or psychologically—into submission, shame them for being different, push them off the swings and kick rocks at their glasses.
Why should I be selfless? What’s my motivation?
I like doing nice things for people. When I worked in a video store, I liked helping customers find obscure movies. I don’t mind sharing my design resources with fellow designers. I take delight in offering up my pop culture knowledge, however weird or potentially shameful, when my boyfriend can’t remember an actor’s name. I draw the line at lending things. There’s no easy way to ask someone to return your copy of Steve Martin’s The Underpants without getting into nasty awkwardness. Just say goodbye to The Underpants.
I’ve fallen into the trap, you see. Despite all my attempts to cast off the stereotypes bestowed on me, here I am, lumping All People into the category of Mean People. Once again, the minority (although, I think I’m being kind when I say “minority”) of bad seeds ruin it for everyone. Not everyone is horribly insensitive and self-absorbed. Some people are kind. They are generous with their time and their love. They carve out time from their busy schedules to volunteer for causes close to their hearts. They make the effort to help those in need. Then there are people in need. Needy People. They get the worst rap of all. The underprivileged are painted as people to pity, dirty and helpless and perhaps malnourished. But there are varying levels of need and people who require assistance aren’t always looking for a free ride. Sometimes they just need a jump.
When I needed routine check ups for my hearing impairment, the best we could afford was the local crippled children’s clinic. Back then, all the disabilities were lumped together. There we were in the waiting room, me with my little hearing loss and toddlers with cerebral palsy and all the disabilities in between. As far as the government was concerned, we were all crippled. I sat in the waiting room and watched the other kids. Most times, I was the healthiest looking in the bunch. Some of these children would need assistance for life. They probably didn’t intend to grow up into Independent City Girls. Did I pursue independence more fiercely in their honor? No. I scurried as far away as possible because I didn’t want to be a cause. I didn’t want to be crippled. I didn’t want to be—as my mother so lovingly called me—the next Helen Keller.
If I were a better person, I would turn my failures into opportunities. I’d look for ways to contribute to society, filling in niches and luring fellow misanthropes from their caves. I could organize a field trip to a strip club for childfree non-drivers or an overnight camp for friendless introverts. I’d encourage impatient unemployed atheists to work on their penmanship. The possibilities are limitless. The possibilities require strength and dedication I don’t yet possess. It’s still easier to avoid human interaction than to invest myself and risk further rejection and remorse.
Is it possible for me to be truly selfless in the 21st century? I don’t know. I’ll try.