The last day this guy (who, for lack of a better defining numerical term, shall henceforth be referred to as Ex-whosit number bazillion) was in town, we went out for Ethiopian food. I'd never had Ethiopian food before, and man, what a waste of my first twenty-three years. Shit's ridiculously good. Anyway, we didn't finish it all, and the to-go containers were kind of leaky, so when Ex-whosit number bazillion tried to keep it on his lap when we got into the car, I took it from him and threw it into the backseat on top of my old broken computer, some dish towels, and all the other random crap that is left after you move all stuff you actually need out of your apartment. He said, "I can just hold it," and I was like, "Don't worry about it," because he's a street musician and I figured he probably shouldn't go around ruining perfectly good clothing in the name of saving my extraneous crap from the perils of Ethiopian leftovers. And he gives me this look and goes, "You are just absolutely selfless, aren't you? You don't even want to burden me with your leftovers."
I said, "Well, yeah, but it's not as awesome a thing as you'd think it is." Which is true. My family isn't particularly religious, but my father teaches the Philosophy of Nonviolence at a small university, and basically since day one I've been trained to think about other people's feelings and desires even to the detriment of my own. "My mother has told me she's actually worried that if it came down to my life or someone else's, I literally wouldn't be able to defend myself."
"Wow," he said, "that's great."
I laughed. "Oh yeah?"
"Some people work really hard for that."
I sat in silence for a while and thought about that. It was interesting to hear him say that, because it's something I have struggled with my whole life. It's hard for me even to separate out my own desires from other people's, and often I end up getting taken advantage of without realizing it until much later. "It doesn't come from a place of strength," I said. "I have no control over it at all. I just do it."
He laughed at me, then, and said, "What, you think it's worth less because you didn't have to work for it?"
"Well, it doesn't mean anything."
"Why does it have to mean something?" he asked me, and I was stumped.
But I've had a few days to think about it now, and I still think I am right. The right action is worthless without right intent behind it; and if you're not capable of killing someone, how "right" is it to refuse to do it? There's no intention there, no choice; you just can't help it. You're a machine, programmed to do the right thing, rather than a human acting rightly in full knowledge of what he is doing. These are the philosophical arguments behind what I believe.
But the real reason I think that my inability to act to benefit myself is a detriment rather than a gift is because it hurts me. I don't want to do it; I just do it, and it is exhausting. I am not less than anyone else, and I deserve as much respect from myself as other people do. Any sacrifices I make for others should be made out of the fullness of my heart and not out of an inability to act otherwise. I would like to be able to act kindly towards other people out of strength, and not out of weakness; I would like to be able to do it willingly, with love for them and for myself at once. And if that means that first I must learn how to act selfishly, and in my own interests, in order to build up my own reservoir of love and strength and kindness from which I can give as I choose, then so be it. I think that would be better than blundering through the rest of my life giving to other people to the point where it hurts me, and always wishing for someone to give in return. I can't count on anyone else to give me what I need, to make me feel fulfilled. I think it's a greater kindness to the world to make myself into the kind of person who can fend for herself, emotionally as well as physically, than to push myself to breaking. If everyone cleaned his own backyard, the whole world would be beautiful.