Some animals, like bees, are eusocial. They live in highly organized social groups, each with a job to do, and all for the survival of the group. Adult bees are drones, workers, and for one unlucky female, the Queen.

This would all seem so complicated except for one thing. Bees have tiny brains and they don’t live very long. In other words, it is unlikely that more than the tiniest bit of learning goes into this process and I’d say it’s safe to say that no thinking goes into it. Bees follow instinct. They do their jobs, they don’t change roles, and when they communicate, they send messages that are easy for everyone to understand.

People are also social animals but from an evolutionary standpoint, we are driven for individual survival, not group survival, a quality the ethologist Richard Dawkins called the “selfish gene“. Evolution is not everything. There are other forces at work and some of them even motivate us to get along with one another and nurture each other for the greater good.

But people have big brains and live a long time! We learn to play many roles and carry out many responsibilities. And these roles and responsibilities are not predetermined at birth. Unlike bees, we are not born into an inflexible caste.

Living in a group is really complicated. We communicate with our words and other behaviors. We don’t always say what we mean. We don’t always know what we mean. Our roles overlap and our goals may be at cross purposes.

Bees have very organized relationships. However, they don’t have intimate relationships. People bump and scrap with each other all of the time. We protect ourselves from real and perceived slights. Most of us put a lot of energy into individual survival as well as to helping our loved ones.

I try to live a peaceful life. I try to be a helpful and nurturing person. I try to belong to the community of humanity and to contribute to its health. But I often fail to do so and sometimes spectacularly so.

I am a nice person but I am not always nice. I am a caring person but sometimes I try to protect myself at the expense of others. Sometimes, I use my intellect to come up with fancy justifications for my behavior when in my heart of hearts, I know that I am doing wrong. I am a happy person but sometimes I am irritable and sometimes I lose my temper and yell at the very people that in my hearts of hearts, I love the most.

Almost every time this happens it is because I have neglected my self-care. I have pushed myself too hard, worked too many hours, not eaten well, not taken time to myself, and not exercised. When I think of myself last, it is because I am looking outward to what I think my family needs, ignoring cues from myself that a good deal of my distress is simply because I am not caring for myself.

It is at the times I make these seemingly altruistic sacrifices, I am most prone to behaving selfishly.

I am not perfect. That is okay. Expecting myself to have no needs is not okay. Being selfish is not okay.  I am not perfect. That is okay.