What It Means To Me… Selfish, Part 2: Selfless
[Please see lasts weeks blog “What It Means To Me… Selfish, Part1: Selfish” for the original post and commentary on part 1 – Dawn]
Let’s look at the other side of this coin, and how “selfless” creates just as much confusion as “selfish” does, if not more. Again, everyone would wrap a different net of words around this concept if asked to do so, so let’s go to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary app on my iPhone to see what they have to say on it. (Is it arrogant of me to assume that it will be as confusing as “selfish”?)
Oh, this is great. The definition of selfless is as follows: “having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself”. Under that, it says “Full Definition: having no concern for self”. Come on, guys… that’s not even a challenge. Having no concern for self is the same as having no self. If you eat one time, if you adjust your body one time to decrease physical discomfort, if you seek to satisfy your own needs or wants on any level, you are not a selfless person. I’m glad that was easy to clear up. If you are alive, it is a result of you not being selfless, according to the “full definition” of selfless.
Now let’s look at the first part more closely: “having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself” means you would be dead by now as well. “Other people” is a pretty broad category, and it includes everyone. A selfless person, living by these guidelines, does not eat until everyone is fed, does not seek gainful employment until everyone else has a job, does not clothe themselves until every last person on Earth has garments to wear.
The main problem with words like these is that we all use the same words while existing at different levels of consciousness. The fact that these words crumble under the weight of their own definitions is only evident when the personal meanings these words take on for each of us is examined by the individual doing the looking. “Selfish” and “selfless” only exist within a framework that assumes the point of view of the observer as being not only correct but uniquely relevant.
If your world is about day-to-day survival, you exhibit selfishness by hunting or gathering food and warding off enemies. When the example gets extreme, and you attack your neighbor without provocation, you have crossed over from selfish to asshole. Taken the other direction, seeing all life as equal and finding it unconscionable to take plant or animal life to sustain yours, you become selfless and you also become dead. If you had been selfish, you could have survived to experience the next level of consciousness. Once physical survival stops being the immediate need fulfilling every moment of your life, you can begin to enhance your existence by joining it to other selfish survivors.
When you have a companion, or the ability to at least perceive others as having an equal right to survive and can understand that their consciousness is different from yours and yet just as valid to them, your selfishness is demonstrated by cooperation. You enhance your life and the lives of those close to you first and foremost, because that is where your identity is anchored. Selfless at this stage means you starve so your loved ones can eat, and it’s just as fatal. Selfish here splits up the food in hard times, everybody gets at least the chance to survive, and when the good times return with the season your selfishness takes you to the next level of consciousness. You wise up and trade with other small groups of people, and you become part of a community.
As part of a community, your selfish contribution makes life better for everyone in your community; it fosters cooperation at a higher level, but it creates competition with other communities. Your identity is anchored in your tribe or community at this point, so you act with their best interests in mind regardless of others (those not in your tribe). Selflessness at this level puts every member of the tribe before you, in safety and food and water and medicine. It’s hard to see that much of what people see as selfless at this level is really selfish. When you go to war and kill three strangers and then die, that’s selfless from your tribe’s point of view. From the other tribe’s point of view (or at least those three dead people), it was selfish. Still, selfless equals dead. If you survive, your continued selfish contribution is expected. You may band together with other communities to step things up another notch and survive to experience anchoring your identity in the welfare of a nation.
Being a nationalist is much the same as being a tribalist. The selfish or selfless nature of your acts are determined from the point of view of a society, and good luck accomplishing anything there without having to disregard at least one person’s advice or opinion. Selfless is the same here, too; and much like some people’s requirement for sainthood, selfless still equals dead.
Step up to a humanist point of view, and your identity expands to become a global one. You do what’s best for humanity from your point of view, regardless of the perspective of the survivor or the tribalist or the nationalist or any life form other than your own. Selfless here means acting out or speaking out against war and oppression, but selfless status is again procured only after you have drawn your last breath. Up to that point, you are putting your needs above someone else’s in order to survive and express your point of view.
Take it to the next level, and you find yourself working with one intelligent race against or in disregard of other intelligent races, and your new tribe is as big as your galaxy while facing the same essential set of problems. Folks still have to kill each other, and heroes get to be selfless dead people while selfish people with a galactic identity perpetuate the existence of humanity and other select races through planetary colonization and interstellar cooperation.
Now the Universal consciousness emerges, and selfish becomes harmful to no one. You still have to act with disregard to some beings in some respects, but you have long since understood that disregard is not ill regard; even the most elevated consciousness produces results by narrowing their focus, by nature disregarding everything and everyone outside of that range of focus. Selfless still demands that you ditch your body and equally permeate all of space.
We’ll meet someday on another planet in a marketplace, where we are trading goods with other sentient beings and talk about what comes next. For now, let’s look back at what we have learned and sum up:
Quick test to see if you are selfish: are you alive? It’s the same test for selflessness, but by definition the selfless can’t take the test by virtue of their ability to pass it. Free will kicks in when you decide where to anchor your identity, and how to wield your selfishness. Is your family the most important thing to you, or is your neighborhood or your nation? If your consciousness is globally or universally oriented, you can be grateful to live where that opportunity is available and rest assured that staying this path will only result in physical violence in a rare self-defense scenario.
Remember, selfish acts with disregard for others, not with ill regard to anyone. If you want to find a way for every being on the continent or planet to vote on your every action and then move forward only after considering billions of opinions, you must still disregard some of that input before you act. People who act with ill will towards others are a lot of things, but by definition they are not selfish. As long as you have an identity, you have an agenda. The key is not dissolving your identity, it is anchoring your identity in a perspective that does not necessitate an “us versus them” mentality. We are all in this together, and we all benefit from the individual who lives that truth in their own selfish way.
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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!