Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Definition of Selfish

We discussed in class on Tuesday whether or not Elizabeth Gilbert's decision to leave her husband was a selfish one or not. I was unable to decide at first because many good points were raised on both sides of the argument, although most people decided that it was in fact an unselfish act in that it brought an unhealthy relationship to a close. However I also believe that in a way we are unable to truly know whether it was unselfish because we only have one side of the story, that of Elizabeth Gilbert. Her journey of spiritual and emotional discovery is indeed a compelling one, and it raises questions in the readers head as to whether or not "going with the flow" is an unhealthy part of American society that Gilbert chose to turn away from
After reflecting on our class discussion, I have come to the opinion that her actions were selfish, although they did lead to improvement in the end. Certainly she made the right decision for herself, and removed the pressures of her husbands baby craziness and the standard operating procedure of an approaching-middle age house wife. On the other hand, her decision was a unilateral one, and I found it odd that she seemed to justify this decision by claiming that she attempted to take the high road in the divorce proceedings, even though her husband chose to fight it to the bitter end. Divorce and marriage are both life altering events, and decisions that must be made between two people. There is a reason that both parties say "I do" on the alter, not just one. I thought it was ironic that she attends an Indian wedding where, neither party truly decides to get married, it is simply a decision that is made for them. Just as a marriage is decision made between two people, so is divorce. In the way that marriage is life altering in such a positive way, divorce is a decision that is usually soul crushing for at least one of the parties, as it is in the case of her husband. I am not saying that a woman who is unhappy in her marriage should be forced to remain it, that is just as unhealthy as a couple having a baby when they are not ready. I am arguing that divorce is not a decision that should be made after a night of bawling your eyes out on the bathroom floor because you are afraid of what your future has become. It seems to me as though Gilbert simply threw out a life that many people who are less fortunate would dream of simply because it got hard. She states in her book, interestingly I might add, that she does not want to go into the specific events that led up to it and eventually compelled her leave her husband. It seems to me that after writing the first few chapters of the book, she must have looked back on her description and thought, "this reflects badly on me. This makes me seem selfish." She doesn't mention discussing the idea of having a baby or any other problems she might have had. Instead, it seems like she let it all build up inside and then one day decided, "I quit." It strikes me as odd that she didn't want to include any of these discussions, and makes me wonder if they were had at all.
To get back to my opinion that her actions were selfish, the word selfish must be defined. I define it as a making a decision or taking action that benefits only the person making or doing it, while at the same time tending work detrimentally to an outside party. Knowing only the facts from her description of the event, It seems clear that her actions fit into this definition. Did she remove herself from the pressures, anxiety, and fear of a marriage that was going through what I would define going through a rough patch based on her description? Yes. Was an outside party hurt by this decision? Certainly her husband was not on board with the decision, based on his reluctance to sign the divorce papers or even accept the "generous" she makes of the house and all their money. Perhaps the most important question is did she benefit from her decision to leave? I think being able to travel around the world eating delicious food, learning languages and "finding herself" qualifies as a benefit.
In the end, the decision of whether it was selfish or not cannot be unequivocally made based on this book because it tells the side of the story that comes from the person who may or may not have been selfish. The decision can only be made by those who feel hurt by the decision. What angers me most about her portrayal of the situation is that she seems to think that somehow, by leaving her husband, and for that matter all of her friends for a year, she is making an act of love, which to me is utterly ridiculous.

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