My Uncle made a comment a while back that stuck with me: “Calling someone selfish is a selfish act. Essentially what you’re saying is, ‘pay more attention to me!'” This comment came to mind when I began my day this morning my calling someone selfish, and of course, this comment accurately described my feelings: I was angry because I wanted that individual to pay attention to something that I had done. Classic human nature. The speck and the plank all over again.
Thinking a little deeper into my feelings (and others’ feelings in this circumstance) it seems like narcissistic feelings can come from a lack of attention. It seems like the typical etiology for narcissism, however, is that it results from too much attention. (Perhaps this is why I exhibit the narcissism discussed previously.) Both etiologies are probably correct, but let’s examine the first one in more detail.
Lack of attention from others. It would be easy here to say that the cure for lack of attention from others is to say, “God always pays attention to you.” But I’m not sure that this can be entirely satisfying, for Adam still needed the attention of Eve before the fall. In other words, when Adam was still connected to God without that tainting of sin, he still needed a companion. (I do think, by the way, the orthodox interpretation of this story is a bit guilty of eisegesis.) Moreover, if it is the case that we are all image bearers and breath carriers of God, then perhaps rejection from others, feels like lack of attention from God?
That’s absurd, but its another consequence of being an image bearer. It also sucks a little bit to think this way because I’d like to think that the love of God provides some sort of extra feeling of security and love towards oneself. Perhaps this is the case, but maybe we still need others. This conceptual conflict is messy.
BUT I think I can learn from these musings that if someone says “Stop being selfish” maybe they are crying out for love. Maybe they are saying those words because they have a desire to share some aspect of themselves. I should respond with compassion and open ears.
Perhaps my Uncle’s comment wasn’t categorically correct.