Selfish


I used to belong to the smokers club. I carried my own pack and worried about where my lighter went. I sucked on the stick and hung out in the herd of other smokers. But I stopped 11 years ago. And in those 11 years I have not only cleaned my system from that toxin, but my lungs became so sensitive to the smoke that hung in the air that I would spend nights hacking away and coughing up all that second hand smoke when I was exposed to it.  And so my home is a smoke free place, as is my work space. But what that has meant is that I have committed social suicide to some extent. I have definitely died socially when I get stubborn about attending or being present in social gatherings with smoke.



My friends are all very considerate when it comes to smoking around me, they remove themselves or are very conscious about which hand the cigarette is in, or make sure to blow out their fumes away from me. When I would throw a party everyone respects the rules and goes outside. I also had a group of non smoking friends who would also love the nonsmoking policy around me.  But these days I am finding myself more and more in the minority. Sometimes even a minority of one. Let me put it in context from my perspective. Beirut is a night time city, social life revolves around bars, restaurants, clubs. Eighty to ninety percent of people (conservative estimate) who frequent these establishments are smokers, ventilation systems and air conditioners are plentiful but I dread the thought of looking at their filters and find them ineffectual when these places are full beyond capacity and every nook and cranny has a lit cigarette with a passionate sucker on its end.  So unless you have a gas mask on you are going to inevitably inhale all that fabulous second hand smoke, your hair is going to stink and you clothes are going in the wash immediately, even your underwear. And this is not unique to Beirut, Amman has its fair share of smoky entertainment venues.


And it’s not just when you are out and about. Visiting with friends zis a nightmare for me because not only am I slowly forming these relationships and so am still a guest rather than an “insider”, but again I am a minority so I don’t feel I have the social space to say “please stop smoking”. And so, through peer pressure, and because I want social inclusion I am forced to deal with the smoke or be excluded. Even in their consideration, smokers fail to realize how isolating and exclusionary it is when there is one nonsmoker and they all go out to the balcony or kitchen to smoke. And since they are all hanging out there what is originally a 3 minute smoke easily turns into a balcony party without thought to the person left behind. Its as if there is this expectations that as a nonsmoker I have to deal with this, it’s my problem and so my options are to open a window, or stay and breathe the smoke,  or sit apart from the group, or not attend in the first place, or be the asshole that says no to smoking.


I am pissed off at how inconsiderate smokers are, even when they are trying to be “considerate”. I am sad that I am always sitting on the edge, outside the group so I can breathe some clean or less polluted air. I am tired of being left out or behind or not even considered. Your considerations are isolating, exclusionary and antisocial; and this binary of either join the club at the expense of my health or be on the social fringe is unfair. I really don’t understand this sense of entitlement smokers have about their “right” to pollute the air.


So dear smokers, your body is yours to do what you wish with it, but to think that you can spew poison out for all to breathe and then say to me either breathe my smoke or be left out is to me one of the most isolating things you can do, its is selfish and inconsiderate. And as a people person who likes to be in the middle of the dance floor I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this majority who enforces upon the minority its exclusionary practices especially within circles of so-called inclusion.

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I am a selfish woman, sometimes even very selfish. This, I know, is a very strong statement. Strong because we, as a society, view selfishness as a very negative trait. We are taught at a very young age to share. As Arab women, we are taught at a very young age to be selfless, and place others constantly before us. There is a high value on the happiness of those around us, and as young girls we see and learn that a woman who sacrifices and puts her family, friends, and others in general before her is a virtuous, good woman. Selflessness is a highly prized virtue. Well I disagree, and I disagree strongly. I think being selfish is a good thing. 

I regard “I am a selfish woman” as a very positive affirmation of all my accomplishments and life achievements. I think it is completely and utterly OK to place a high value on the things you want, your desired achievements, and to go after them. One’s own priorities may not match those that are around them, but let me ask you this: when someone asks you to take their needs into consideration first, is this not selfishness on their part? I think it is. So why is it OK for us to come last then?

I used to be very selfless. I would place a much higher value on the happiness of others and their needs. This usually meant that I came out last if I even got a turn. I was a pleaser. If decisions were being made everyone’s contributions, needs, and or feelings were considered, by me, before mine. Sometimes, actually most times, this left me feeling frustrated, angry, or just disgruntled.

Today, I have put my foot down. I won’t do things I do not want to do. If our interests are at odds then I place a high value on my needs first and then consider the others. I am the most important person to me. Just as you are the most important person to yourself. Each one our universes revolves around us. I recognize that and for that I am called selfish. It is a tag I have no problem wearing, because I may not come out on top every time, but I sure as hell don’t come last every time either. 


Finally, I would like to say that putting myself first does not in any way mean that respect, consideration, or compassion for others is thrown out the window. It’s just that now the parameters of how my life and my decisions are made are different, and for that I am a very selfish woman J.