What is selfishness? My definition – it’s making the world about you. It’s about not only feeling you mean something to the people in our lives – it’s that underlying need to feel the most important. This need is so easy to see in kids. I’ve realized it’s something that actually never truly goes away for any of us.
I think it goes back to finding meaning for our own existence. What’s our value and purpose if we’re not the most important person to someone? Why do we exist if there’s no one puts us above everything and anyone? I think the realization that we can never be the most important person to anyone in every situation is what makes us adults – it’s also what takes some of that childhood spark out of all of our lives.
At some point, we realize we’re not the most important person all the time. Some people have to face the reality earlier than others. Any child that has a younger sibling has gone from being the sole purpose of their parents’ lives to having to share that with a younger sibling. I’ve watched my 3 year old try to shake his newborn brother to death. Most horrifying moment of my life. This was the child that in my mind could do no wrong. No one could tell me he was anything less than perfect. Then I watched him bounce my newborn son so hard in his bouncy seat, we are so lucky he didn’t have shaken baby syndrome. I’d left the room for less than a minute. I tell this story over and over because it was my moment of realization that I truly did love two beings equally and I could actually be angry, truly angry, at my first son. How dare he try to hurt my baby! But, wait, he too was my baby. It’s at this moment parenting truly begins. I’ve had a friend say, “no parent is a parent unless they’ve had more than one.” That’s not meant to be an insult to parents of only children – it’s just the reality of recognizing you can love someone just as much as your first. If you don’t have a second, you never come to that realization. When you have two, standing there staring at you, saying, “I didn’t do it,” and you have no evidence either way, you learn very quickly you can’t take sides, even with suspicion. You learn instead to teach them how to figure it out for themselves and, if accountability is needed, if you can’t pinpoint blame, they’re both accountable. What do they learn about importance to their parents as a result of this lesson? They learn they’re not most important. But, that doesn’t mean that need is lost, they still challenge their parents, friends, other family members to say, “yes, you’re most important.” In most cases, they don’t get that message so just keep seeking elsewhere.
If there’s only two, no matter how healthy the parenting, the younger one grows up believing they have to compete – face it, the older one has probably told them since they were born that they weren’t important and not wanted or needed. They grow up without the expectation of ever being most important but they seek it. I believe a second child tries so much harder to be important to someone. If they find it, they like to hang it over the older’s head. My sister and Nana were like that. My sister believes she was never most important to anyone except Nana. Nana told her at one point in our lives that she favoured the ones that looked like they were left behind. Kind of humourous if you know our family – my aunt, who is only 7 years older than me, and the youngest child of Nana’s family, is the most lost soul I’ve ever met and the one Nana wanted the least to do with because she just didn’t know what to do with her and her personality. What my sister never understood in bragging to me about how she was Nana’s favourite was that I wasn’t most important to anyone. Sure, I had some privilege around being the oldest grandchild but that fades fast when others are born.
Siblings figure it out. They just go with it. There’s healthy and unhealthy sibling relationships. But, having to adapt to being one of two or one of more teaches so many life lessons. In healthier families, you learn you can’t be the most important all the time but you can be the most important sometimes. Hopefully, you come to learn that you are significantly important to your siblings. Hopefully, you learn they will always be there for you and instead of resenting you should appreciate them. Huge lesson.
Then there’s only children – I’ve met a few and I’ve seen the impact. In a healthy family situation and even in some that aren’t so healthy, that child grows up to feel they are the most important person because they truly are in their parent’(s) life. There’s never anything that challenges that in their family life. There’s no blame in that statement –it just is. They have no reason to think differently. As a result, they approach life in that light. They have no reason to believe they aren’t the most important to their friends, boyfriends/girlfriends and I think have a much harder time facing the fact that they can’t be the most important to anyone all the time.
Saying all that, birth order be damned. We all face the lack of importance at some point – it’s just some sooner than others for some. We all know that our time on this earth is going to end in tragedy – we’re going to die. What’s the meaning of life then? It’s knowing we were important to someone for some reason. It may be just one person or maybe, like famous people, it’s a world. We all strive to find our importance to someone and I think leaving this world becomes okay if the people who mean something to us and who truly know and feel they know us are around. How do we make that happen? We’re kind, we’re available to the people we love and make sure they know it, we give them our time, we pay them attention, we our unselfish in our relationships. We take the time to know them so they, in turn, have a reason to want to know us. In my opinion, it’s that easy – that’s the meaning of life.