While individualism and selfishness are often not glorified traits to have, especially in a community oriented society like India, they are nonetheless extremely important. More so if you are a kind, compassionate human being, who can actually understand and empathize with people. The problem then, with being a nice guy/girl[1], is that one can have  a bit of a problem in putting oneself first.  While western societies thrive on the idea of individualism, we, here in India are taught to think of the bigger, societal picture. Think of your family and friends first, or, if not think of them first, certainly think of them alongside thinking about yourself.

For most part, this kind of ideology serves us. After all, as someone important  once said ‘ no man is an island’.  It serves us in  desperate times when we need help and it saves us from feeling alone and isolated in general- an increasing cause of concern worldwide (especially in western societies) with our heightened dependence on technology.

However, it also opens one up to a multitude of other complex issues like managing one’s social network. Your social calendar (and essentially your life) gets marked by various things/events concerning your friends and family.   In the rare event that you are one of those ‘introverts’ who has a very limited social circle, it is nonetheless really hard to escape the many, many functions one is socially obligated to attend, every year, for one’s extended family (they don’t call it the great Indian family for no reason).This only gets more convoluted and complicated if one is married/has a significant other. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how people fit in all this socialization information in their brains when they get married! Remembering their significant other’s birthday/milestones is one thing; but having to remember an entire different family’s[2] birthday’s/anniversaries/special events, must be exhausting!!!

Anyway, for most part, I get it. Family and perhaps extended family to a certain extent, are important and one has to(sometimes) keep up appearances. But this keeping up appearances business sometimes comes at the cost of one’s own priorities. And I feel that that is something I really struggle with.  More so, because, like I have said before, one is socialized to think about the bigger picture and think about others before thinking about oneself.  And this  way of thinking, often renders you kind of incapable of saying no to people , even in non-familial spaces.

I have often found myself agreeing to do things in my social circle of friends (not extended family, as we have already agreed that that is a hard terrain and somewhat of a lost cause) irrespective of whether or not it suits me or even whether or not it is something I actually want to do/or see myself having fun in the process off. And in my experience, when you continue to do something you are not fully convinced of, whatever that thing might be, overtime, it builds resentment.

And unlike selfishness, which can sometimes be really good for you, nothing good ever comes out of resentment.  In fact, I have begun to realize that if one does practice being selfish, in some cases, it can actually save friendships before resentment builds up and things turn sour.

So while we have established that this trait, perhaps doesn’t shine through in familial settings, it should, perhaps, be given a chance to work its  magic in one’s social group of friends. Right? Of course I do not mean to imply that one should be outright mean while being selfish or individualistic…just more in tune with one’s own needs before addressing others’.  However, selfishness is surprisingly harder to practice than it seems, even when it is for your own good.

Hell, I even have trouble saying no to rating an app on my phone let alone people I am friends with ! Whenever I see a pop up for an advert to rate this app with options of never, maybe later, I always chose maybe later!  As if I am somewhat afraid to hurt this nonhuman app adverts’ feelings or something!

However, I do feel that there is hope for people like me because honestly, there comes a point in your life where you realize that paying too much attention to everyone and everything else, over and above your own needs doesn’t really get you too far.

In fact,  in the last couple of years (like have said in my previous posts), I have been actively trying to prune my social circle simply because, a) it was long overdue, b) most of the people who were cut/phased out weren’t adding value to my life and c) because with a lot of them, any social engagement stopped being fun, and started to feel like an obligation.  And I can honestly say that I am much happier for it. I am sure I pissed off/upset a lot of people, especially the ones I completely disengaged with, but then, it was required. As far as my current social circle goes, somewhere, I  think and hope  that they have also begun to get the message that while I love and value their time and friendship, sometimes I need to just withdraw/ spend time with myself doing things which I want to do. And it’s okay for me to not be available every time a last minute plan gets made or a friend calls to rant about something general( not urgent) which I can’t or don’t want to focus on just then. A simple golden rule in this process ( taught by my best friend) has been the realization that I can ‘respond’ to things, instead of ‘reacting’ to them- whether that is a phone call, an aggravating or seemingly urgent (but not really) WhatsApp message/text or an email.  Though I have to say it is a learned skill which, while difficult to inculcate, gets stronger with practice and the belief that you are doing it for yourself.

[1] For the purposes of this post, woman from here onwards, given that I am a 30 year old woman and not really a girl

[2] Because in India marriage is between two families and not so much about two people and here again, family means extended family

  • Aditi Vyas

Aditi is a policy wonk who swears by chocolate filled anything.

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