“What It Means To Me… Selfish”
I spent my whole childhood hearing the people in charge tell me not to be selfish. It turned out, however, that I couldn’t buy a car, rent an apartment or put food on the table with selflessness when my childhood was over and such things became up to me. It seemed there was a line that needed to be drawn.
Living a completely selfless life from the cradle to the grave would turn out one fundamentally useless individual. To learn a new skill we must possess a desire to learn a new skill, and bettering yourself is surely something you do for yourself. If you better yourself in order to better serve others, being of service to others is your selfish desire. You want it. That’s selfish. It’s a healthy kind of selfish, but it’s still selfish.
All of our desires are selfish by definition, and a person with no desire has no reason (or desire) to get out of bed in the morning. Or in the afternoon. Or ever. Assuming they had enough desire at some point in their lives to manifest themselves a bed to lay in.
You may think I’m arguing semantics here, but bear with me. A sort of confusion seems to exist around the concept of abundance these days, and this word is the source of much of that confusion.
Selfish is defined (in my big fat dictionary*) as “devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.” But let’s look closely at that, because the definition itself is a contradiction. If I am devoted only to myself, then I want me to be happy. If I want to be happy, I have a lot to learn…and if I have a lot to learn, then I will one day have a lot to offer as well.
Let’s just go with the basics for starters: You want a comfortable place to live, transportation, food to eat…so you need income. You realize that to get the most income possible, you’ll either have to come up with a great idea and sell it for a boatload of money, start and grow a business, or learn a skill and sell your time. Somehow in the midst of making yourself financially secure, regardless of others, you just made the world a better place. You either shared an invaluable idea, created a new or better service, or hugely benefited an employer with your continued contribution. Without once thinking of anyone but yourself.
At some point most of us find ourselves desiring companionship; friendships, a lover or lovers. We find people who we think might make us happy, and we discover that it is in our own best interest to be kind and loving towards them. Again, an entirely selfish motive has benefited anywhere from one other to an unlimited number of others.
Now you might be tempted to stop me again here, but think about it. The person who lies, cheats and steals is not acting in their own best interest. Being “devoted to yourself” means not ending up in prison, or broke, or unhappy. Those things are stupid, irrational and short-sighted. Your own interests, benefits, and welfare are not considered when you’re being stupid, irrational, and short-sighted.
The more evolved we become, the more important it is to be selfish. Your father wants you to be a carpenter, your mother wants you to find a good wife, your entire community expects you to be a good selfless little drone and follow in your father’s footsteps and respect your parents…and you want to find God? The ultimate service is when serving yourself is serving the world, and every man or woman who ever achieved any real measure of enlightenment got it because they wanted it. Service is selfish when that’s what you want to do. It’s in your own best interest, regardless of others.
The issue is not whether we are selfish or not. Everyone does what they feel like doing, whether it is hidden behind stated selfless intentions or out in the open. The issue is that we have confused ourselves for so many generations about abundance that we can accept a definition of it that actually contradicts itself. When you act in your own best interest, you benefit those around you.
We all know where selflessness can lead in relationships. Codependency and insecurity are inevitable; we are desire-creating and manifesting machines. We cannot be stopped! The man who buys flowers for his wife of umpteen years wants a happy wife, and his efforts probably don’t stop at flowers to get it. He wants her happiness for his own benefit, and his selfish desire benefits her. He may move to help out her friends and family out of a desire to see her happy, and how many people benefit from the butterfly effect of that man’s selfishness?
If I am “concerned primarily with my own interests, benefits, welfare, etc…”, then my focus is on being close to God, having fruitful and loving relationships, living my highest truth, making consistent meaningful contributions to society and living a life that benefits myself and those around me and taxes no one in my living it. Is that really acting “regardless of others”? Can I have a good life any other way?
I’ve read books or passages by favorite authors exploring the concept of selfishness, journaled extensively on the subject, and turned it over and over in my mind for years…and that’s what it means to me.
[ *Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. And big fat as in, big enough to break some toes if you dropped it on your foot. No lie. – Dawn ]
This commentary ran a little long, and I was dismayed to see page after page fill up with no end in sight. Then I reached the end, and I realized I had really written two entries that could and should be neatly separated. This week will be the first, and will be titled appropriately “What It Means To Me… Selfish, part 1: Selfish”. Next week will wrap it up with a look at the other side of the coin, and will be titled “What It Means To Me… Selfish, part 2: Selfless”.
I hope this blog has been as fun to read as it has been to write. This is the second “What It Means To Me” that we have shared, and I thought it might be a good opportunity to invite some reader participation. If you would like to hear my point of view on a spiritually charged word or phrase, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions [or you can leave a comment in the comments section of the blog – Dawn]. There is only one more of these prepared, and the subject is “The Dark Night of the Soul”. The possibilities are endless, and I would be grateful to hear what direction you would like me to take it next.
Thank you for reading… let’s get down to business…
What It Means To Me… Selfish, Part 1: Selfish
This is one of those concepts that changed my world by changing my understanding of it. Selfish is a confusing word, with a confusing definition, and I think asking a hundred people what it means to them would surely produce a hundred different answers. I understand, of course, that most people think of selfish and picture someone being cruel, or inconsiderate, or short-sighted. The most selfish people in history to many people would be Ghengis Khan or Adolf Hitler or Julius Caesar. I would call these people conquerers, even murderers, but not selfish. These people acted regardless of others, but not in their own best interests.
Who do I think of as selfish? One of my favorite stories of Jesus tells of his mother and brothers coming to visit him at the temple where he was studying, and he turned them away. That was an example of acting in your own best interests regardless of others. The most popular version of Buddha’s story is of a man who was expected to rule when he came of age, a man who had a wife and a child and turned his back on all of it to seek enlightenment. How much more accurately can selfish be exemplified?
Happiness is the best thing we can want for ourselves, and it must be more important to be happy than it is to please others. Is it not odd that the definition says “regardless of others”? It doesn’t say “at the expense of others” or “to the endangerment of others”. Regardless of others simply means you’re gong to do what is best for you, even if others disagree. So what?
If one of the Buddhas was really a dead-beat dad, he surely elevated his consciousness to the degree that he saw that the offspring he left behind was better off without a bitter and wistful father, even that his soul chose that path before incarnating. It could be argued that the Buddha was selfless in his service to humanity, but can it be argued that he did not act regardless of others? Would his wife agree?
From all appearances, most or all of the great things created by people have been selfish endeavors, men and women acting in their own best interest without regard for what others might think or say. Selfish is how science evolves, how philosophy progresses, how technology advances. Selfish is how we find our way to happiness, how we find our way to ourselves, and how we find our way to God.
Every time you make a choice, a thousand other options fall away. Countless people are rejected from your life completely when you choose where to live, where to work, where to play. If the choices you make are made with your own best interests in mind, then you are selfish. If the choices you make are not made with your own best interests in mind, each choice still closes every door except the one you walk through. In other words, even poor choices are made regardless of others. That’s what we usually call selfish, but it’s not; it’s shortsighted, it’s stupid, but it’s missing an essential element to a selfish act if it’s not in your own best interests.
[Stay tuned for “What It Means To Me… Selfish, Part 2: Selfless”, next Friday, August 1st. And don’t forget to let Jay know what you’d like him to write about next! Thanks for reading! – Dawn]