Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

Megan Nicol Reed: How being selfish is now a virtue

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Each week Megan Nicol Reed talks through what’s on all of our minds.
More and more we now applaud the scheduling of me-time ahead of family time. Photo / iStock
More and more we now applaud the scheduling of me-time ahead of family time. Photo / iStock

My second column, and again your kindnesses were many and moving.

Hilary, hilarious Hilary: "You may laugh when I tell you for 60 years I said 'fund' of knowledge." Kim was not the first to say this page put her in mind of Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. I haven't read it, but I liked a lot the film of her memoir, Wild. I found it affirming and solidifying. Reese Witherspoon, so taut and tawny, played her, and I hoped, a passing vanity, that perhaps she put you in mind of me too.

Vivienne: "Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming out of your cave." Helen knows about hiding out. "I believe staying under rocks at various times of our lives is perfectly fine. At some stage moving is good and healthy. Crawling out takes courage and having a firm base of support underneath you. And within you.

"I've been hiding under a rock too for various reasons, but made the call on Thursday to book myself on to an Outward Bound 21-day Masters course.

That'll shake things up a bit."

Both this Helen and another Helen liked my grandmother's advice to the reader (who shall remain nameless) with the elderly mother. This Helen's own grandmother died last year and, in her last years of life, made things very difficult for Helen's mother. "The guilt thing was so true. I think daughters feel it worse than sons." Linda, so practical, says sharing a home with an elderly relative is "fraught". "The anguish of guilt", she counsels, might be avoided by putting in place an Enduring Power of Attorney for both care and assets while your relative is still mentally capable. Last year Jane and her husband moved into a retirement village, and cannot understand the ongoing "stigma regarding rest homes". "We did it because we did not want to become a burden to my wonderful children ... we did it when we wanted to and chose where we wanted to go ... it really has been the best decision we could have made ... Yes, we have had our life and I want my family to enjoy theirs. But we are still really enjoying ours, too. My family can never get hold of us." Val thought we all - me, my grandmother, nameless - had the issue around the wrong way, that it's important to support ageing parents "in a way they have some sense of control over".

"How would you feel if someone, like your children, came into your life now and decided they would tell you what you should do and where you should live and 'their' solutions for your life?"

I think none of us is wrong. That in the end it comes down to a point. A point at which we decide, whether ailing mother or guilty daughter, or indeed any among us negotiating life's path, to put ourselves first, that our own needs will take precedence over another's. I write those words and I writhe, for there is something inherently nauseating about talk of prioritising one's own wants, is there not? It smacks of the shoddiest of self-help books. Of bargain bin advice. And, worse still, typifies our modern obsession with self. To put oneself ahead of someone else is selfishness by any other name. And somehow selfishness has shed its mantle as one of the ugliest elements of the human condition, to become a virtue revered. We admire the mega-rich, overlooking their ill-gotten gains. We applaud the scheduling of me-time ahead of family time. Although that is not to say selflessness, selfishness' righteous sister, is necessarily preferable.

I am never attracted to the saintly, they seem too good to be true, and thus not to be wholly trusted.

In truth, few of us in Western society lead communal lives, our days no longer dictated by the vagaries of the weather and our village's needs. Our lives are busy and complex. And to move because your mother will not may be what tips you over the edge. So you choose self-preservation. Or perhaps you decide, for now at least, to put aside your own wishes and in doing so simplify your life in surprising ways. Life, both in the small and the daily, and in the major, course-changing stuff, can be overwhelming.

Possibly next week we might ponder this. I am open, as always, to your thoughts.

Megan.

- Canvas

Please do write: megannicolreed@gmail.com

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Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

There were many things Megan Nicol Reed imagined she would do in her journalism career. She ticked off feature writer, editor and columnist. She never envisaged agony aunt. Now, when she isn't trying to sort out her own life, she's trying to sort yours. And when she's not doing that she is writing her first novel. In her downtime you'll find her mothering, cooking, running, cleaning and reading. Needless to say she spends much of her life in activewear.

Read more by Megan Nicol Reed

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