Is being selfish wrong?
It’s when we become so pathologically selfish and egotistical (that it actually does harm to ourselves and the people around us) that puts us in the wrong. This is more narcissism than selfishness.
I think we have all probably felt conflicted about our own levels of selfishness. There may have been times when we’ve needed to be selfish at the expense of others—or contrarily have known that we need to be selfish about something, but feel too guilt-ridden and remorseful to actually be that way. I’ve often found myself in the second category.
I am generally tending to other people more than I am tending to my own state of being—and that’s a problem. If we are always trying to help other people, but at the same time are neglecting how we truly feel, our efforts to heal the world will be futile. (Some people won’t like to hear that.)
I know it’s cliché, but if we want to change the world, we have to start with ourselves.
Because we are the world. The quality of our relationship with other people is entirely dependent on our relationship with ourselves. It’s like some kind of natural law. If we try to fix the world—help other people, and get rid of suffering collectively without cultivating the capacity to care for ourselves, acknowledge our flaws, and heal our own psyches—we can’t truly have a positive impact on the world.
I know…what a bummer. Our dreams of being completely selfless heroes, solely concerned with the welfare of others and not of ourselves, is an illusion. What a pity.
What I am really saying here is that there needs to be some degree of selfishness in our actions if we want to do right by the people in our lives.
The idea that we need to sacrifice ourselves, our own quality of life—in order to help other people in some vague and abstract way—is anti-human, right to the very core. This was the concept behind Stalinist Russia, for example: that everyone is suffering for the greater good of the people (turned out they were just suffering for Stalin and a few of his minions). When blind altruism is the guiding principle in a political system, the result is completely disastrous.
Huh. Interesting. Maybe there is something pathological about denying the intrinsic worth of the individual. Hmm…weird how that works, eh?
Remember this: the group doesn’t suffer; it is the individuals in the group who suffer.
There is a such thing as healthy selfishness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help other people. It feels so f*cking good to actually support, care for, and give love to people who truly need it.
I would never drive people away from helping those who, for whatever reason, are unable to help themselves. It is such an earth-shattering feeling of catharsis when we see that our words and actions are genuinely of service to others. But again, we are helping others because it feels good to do so, making it a fundamentally selfish act.
But, what the hell is wrong with that, ya know?! It feels good to help people. It feels good to be generous. It feels good to do nice things for people. We are doing these seemingly altruistic things for ourselves, in the end—and there’s nothing wrong with that. We feel good. The people we help benefit from it. It’s not a zero-sum game; there is a such thing a mutually beneficial exchange.
Let me give a more personal example: I want to be a therapist, speaking with people who feel oppressed daily, in a way that helps them live a more fulfilling life. I want to do that for myself. I happen to like oppressed people, because I’ve been an oppressed person myself. I want my job to be listening and speaking with those who are suffering and are in desperate need for assistance of some kind—but that doesn’t make me an unselfish person. It is a totally selfish pursuit, but one that may very well be of benefit to the world.
I don’t feel like a lot of these pseudo-compassionate academics, who stand in purely altruistic defense of marginalized people, don’t know anything about the people they claim to defend—and honestly, probably wouldn’t even like them. I’ve had a number of experiences with this type of person, and it has solidified my feelings about this; there’s nothing about this kind of attitude that I find morally acceptable.
If we deny that we are selfish, it will come back to bite us. My advice would be to acknowledge that our own well-being should always be at the top of our moral hierarchy.
We are human. If we want to help humanity, healing and improving ourselves is a good place to start. If you don’t value yourself, how can you value other people?
There is a time and a place to be selfish. We can’t truly be of service to others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Instagram @walkthetalkshow
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron