A choice between vulnerability and selfishness

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M. SCOTT PECK, author of The Road Less Travelled, once stated that we are all born narcissists and that our goal as we journey through life is to grow out of that narcissism, out of loving and living for ourselves.

I agree with Peck! Each of us can choose to journey through life independently, focused only on ourselves or we can seek to reach out to people and enter into meaningful relationships with them.

However, if we choose the unselfish path, which requires intimacy, then we must recognize that there is a cost involved in pursuing it.

If you want to go deep in your relationship with your spouse then it is going to require that you be vulnerable. Most of us are good at conversations that revolve around simple pleasantries – “Hi, how are you? I’m fine thanks!” Some of us are quite adept at talking about other people! But when it comes to sharing things such as our ideas about a topic of how we feel about things we run a mile!

WHY DO WE RUN?

Because when we share our ideas or our feelings we know that risk is involved. There is the risk that the person we are talking to may scoff at our idea or worse, repudiate, laugh at or reject our feelings. For some people this is too great a risk to run and so they withdraw from relating to a person at an intimate level.

Some of us are just plainly not interested. The idea of sitting and listening to someone frightens us because we sense that something may be required of us – that there will be an expectation that we must also share about ourselves with the other person.

Rather than do that we simply stop interacting with people. A frustrated wife once asked her counselor if she had ever heard of “the great stone face”. “I believe I have” replied the counselor. “Well, I’m married to him” said the wife, “He doesn’t listen and he doesn’t talk!” I don’t know what was driving the husband to be like that but it was pretty clear that he was not interested in an intimate relationship with his wife.

Others are simply just too tired for relationship. They spend all day in a demanding job or they have been home all day catering to the incessant demands of young children and day’s end finds them with an emotional tank so low that they have nothing more to give to their spouse.

All of this brings me back to my original thought: we are all born narcissists. In other words, we are more inclined to look after our own needs than the needs of others. I would suggest that when we choose not to be vulnerable or we are not interested in others then we are being selfish.

If we really desire closeness in our marriages or with others then we are going to have to do some hard work.

We will choose to be vulnerable, to open ourselves up to others and to share ourselves with them.

Instead of a callous indifference toward people we will choose to listen and to show an active interest in them and their needs.

And sometimes it will require that at the end of a busy day, despite our own tiredness, we will choose to sit down with our spouse and ask them how they are feeling, what they are struggling with, what was the highlight of their day and give them the gift of both our time and presence.

Ebenezer Scrooge was described by Dickens as being “as solitary as an oyster” – what a desperately lonely character he was until he realized how miserable he had become by shutting people out of his life.

Intimacy is costly because it requires that we stop focusing on ourselves and start engaging with people in life-giving ways.

But then, who wants to live as an oyster?