There are two words in the English language that when directed at me start my blood boiling, set my teeth on edge and make me want to claw the speaker’s eyes out. Also lots of other cliches, idioms, proverbs and phrases of anger and annoyance. They are:
I have to admit, that my biggest character flaw is that I hate being told what to do. My family will attest that this trait can make me hard to get along with. Sometimes there are things I should do. For example, I just had gum surgery. I should floss more; I should use my Waterpik; I should use my sonic toothbrush; and I should be gentle when I brush. I really should do those things, and I’m making a concerted effort to be better about the hours of oral hygine necessary to accomplish the four shoulds. That said, all of these tasks are palatable because I’m the one saying should.
My husband and I have an annual fight, which we’ve avoided in 2016 for the first time in 20 years. (He finally wised up to the fact that he can control if this fight occurs or not.) Normally a few weeks before New Years he starts making suggestions for OUR resolutions.
“We should pick a room every week and focus on organizing and really cleaning that room.”
“We should plan meals every week.”
“You should figure out something to do to make yourself happy.”
Let me do a quick translation of the above innocuous statements.
“You have too much crap and I can’t organized it without you, so would you mind getting rid of some of this useless stuff so I don’t have to look at it? You are a bad person.”
“I’m tired of the meals you make and you do a bad job grocery shopping. You waste food and our family eats like crap. No wonder you need to lose a few pounds. You are a bad person.”
“Why are you such a grouch? I’m sick of living with a miserable wench. Will you do something about your attitude? You are a bad person.”
See, even writing these I can sense how ridiculous they are, but I can’t help it. The word “should” gets uttered in my direction, even softened by a “we” instead of a “you,” and I go crazy. I can take constructive criticism and people can tell me what to do. I’m old enough now that I can listen, process and appreciate helpful direction, once I have a chance to take a deep breath, squelch my innate aggravation, remind myself that I know I’m not perfect and the person in front of me is trying to be helpful. (Thankfully I’ve had the same manager for years now and we are used to each other’s idiosyncrasies, so performance review time isn’t so bad.) However, all that goes out the window when a “should” is included. Should is a code word for “there is something wrong with you and I’m finally going to break the bad news to you, but I’m not willing to be part of the solution: you are the problem.” I despise should. Yay to a 2016 New Year with no Afthead-shoulds.
Now let’s talk about the other pet-peeve: selfish. Selfish is a code word for “you live your life differently than I want you to, so I label you as a human being – selfish.” Thankfully selfish is not a word thrown around as lightly as should, but I can recite for you every single time someone has thrown that arrow in my direction. Each time, I was not being selfish, but I was making a choice that the other person didn’t agree with. I wasn’t having children yet. I was taking advantage of opportunities presented when others didn’t. I was capitalizing on an opportunity I created. Sure, I make selfish choices all the time. I choose to do what is best for me, my family, or my situation instead of optimizing life for someone else. However, I’m deep enough into this parenting thing to know that you don’t label a person by their actions. You don’t call someone selfish because they make a choice that appears selfish to you. Selfishly, I waited until I was 33 to have my daughter, because that was what I needed to do for my family. Selfishly, I’ll make the most of an opportunity presented if I am the best person to do the job. I am not a selfish though, and I’ll appreciate you not calling me that.
Let’s turn to Google for a definition, shall we?
selfishadjective(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure
I can give several examples of my not-selfish qualities: I coach my daughter’s soccer team, I foster kittens, I contribute to charity, I parent, and I manage a team of fabulous people. Sure, I have self-serving reasons I do all of these things, but none of them is chiefly concerned with my “personal profit or pleasure.” My profit or my pleasure is an aspect of each of those activities, but it is not the major reason I do them. However, I accept that some people may not see it that way, and they are welcome to question my motivations, but they are not welcome to call me names.
Words do matter, and many people have hot button words, which unfortunately, you usually don’t realize until you’ve uttered them and felt the over-the-top response crash over you. Now at least mine are out there in the blogosphere for anyone to read, so when you say “Johanna, you should be less selfish” you’ll understand when my head explodes. Boom!