Guilt and selfishness are linked like railroad boxcars.
Our idea of what it is to be selfish in front, followed closely and awkwardly by guilt, uncomfortably crashing into each other around every turn. It’s hard to know selfishness without its counterpart. Guilt wants us to hide, to defend, tuck tail and run.
I’ve recently been on a particularly winding road with these two—making decisions for my life that others would, and have, deemed selfish. I never wanted to hurt anyone, but also knew I wasn’t happy. And my unhappiness was hurting those I loved more than the risk it would take to come back to myself.
The only way to really utilize these emotions, or any for that matter, is to face them head on and look at whatever subject matter they’re hitched to. On my way down one particularly slippery, self-deprecating slope, I stopped myself and asked “What does selfishness really mean?” Not really knowing the definition, I turned Google:
adjective self·ish \ˈsel-fish\
: having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people
I believe we need a new definition. We need to reclaim this word from the trappings of “inconsideration”—which this definition really speaks, thus its attachment to guilt—and redefine what it means to be selfish.
My non-identification with this definition brought about a revelation: I am selfish.
I am selfish because I act from a place of knowing my true preference and having my actions extend from there. From knowing and honoring myself in any given moment.
In truth, we are most considerate when we are acting selfishly. One of the greatest gifts we can offer is to allow each other to choose authentically. If we operate from selfishness rather than doing what we think we should do, we give each other the opportunity to choose. This said, you have to own and make known your authentic preferences to enable others to do the same.
The best option is always a win-win and that is only possible from a space of authentic selfishness on both ends. In this way, everything is a win-win, every time.
We come into the world intrinsically living this selfishness. You’ve seen how kids are the centers of their own worlds. Yet we are taught from a very young age to be responsible for each other’s feelings and told: “You hurt her! Say you’re sorry. Go to timeout.” We are taught to be more aware of the emotions and experiences of others, than ourselves.
I believe it’s much harder to be selfish than to appease others. One of the most challenging and empowering ways to live is in full responsibility for your own experience. This includes your emotions, thoughts and life, as a whole. When we are responsible for our experience, we have the power to change it and create anew.
Authentic selfishness is ultimately selflessness. When we operate from our own true preferences and give up the idea of “looking good” or “being right,” we ultimately drop the self—the idea of who we are and what we should be doing. By the very nature of this, we give others a permission slip to do the same.
Author: Scarlet Wells
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Author’s Own