Shards of Consciousness

How To Be Selfish In A Positive Way

When I was taking Philosophy 101 my professor made a remark that had a strong and lasting impact on my life. He said simply, "We are all selfish. "Yeah, right," I thought. "Jesus was selfish. Gandhi was selfish. Martin Luthor King Jr. was selfish."

But I continued to think about it, trying to understand what he meant, because he obviously couldn't have meant it at the face value. And as I thought about it, it gradually became clear. I never discussed this with the professor, so I don't know if the interpretation I came to is what he meant, but I decided he was right. We are all selfish.

This isn't selfishness as most of us interpret it, though. It is positive selfishness. Free Dictionary defines selfish as "Concerned chiefly or only with oneself". "How can that be positive?", you ask. Think about it. You are responsible for your thoughts, your emotions, your desires, your actions.

When you help others, you do it because it gives you pleasure, or because it gives you less pain than not helping them would give you. By the same token, when you don't help others, you receive the greatest benefit by your actions. This is the way we are built. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is. There is no one who has lived, saint or sinner, who has not had the same basic motivation.

The difference between the saint and the sinner is the saint has realized that the personality isn't the sum total of who we are. The saint has realized that helping others brings more pleasure than harming them. The sinner focuses on short-term pleasures that cause long-term pain. The saint focuses on long-term pleasures that can sometimes bring short-term pain. You can be a saint, or you can be a sinner, or, like most of us, you can be a little of both, and each day make choices that will take you to long-term pleasure.

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5 Responses to How To Be Selfish In A Positive Way

  • my boyfriend is verbally abusive to me and I am not use to it. I love him with alll my heart, but dont know how to defend or react to the way he talks to me sometimes. So I cry and he says that I always cry and with the only objective to make him feel bad. I want to know how to be a little mean and selfish, but how do you learn that when its not you?? I know I am not perfect either so what do I do?

  • Adriana,

    Thank you for coming by and taking the time to read this. I answered your comment by email. I hope it helps. Let me know.


    #263 | Comment by Rick on July 28, 2006 11:08am
  • i tried to live my life not to be selfish in my early days when i was selfish i gain everything then a guy camed in my life he showed h elove god etc good but eventually i notice he do things which benefit not for ppl for eg he decided to end our relationship and when i ask him to give me time he said i kn u love me a lot this is a harsh wolrd learn to fight and lefted me and said i bring pain to him then i thought he hurts everyone acts selfishly and then also he says god loves him how
    my whole lif is a hell even when i dont want to help anyone god words will come in my mind help everyone whop ask for help then i help them but that person only in future bring pain to me once my friend said u kn what problem is i ask what u try to be soo good and here in world only selfish can survuive its like for helping ppl my whole life is destroying even if its a matter of some small thing and i dont help that ppl i feel so bad from inside and guilty what to do

  • priyanka,

    If I understand you correctly, you're saying you try to help people, but the people you try to help often hurt you. If you don't try to help them, you feel guilty. You try to be good, but it leads you to pain.

    Your friend is not right. Selfishness, in the way they were meaning it, is not necessary for happiness. Strength, a security with yourself, a knowing that you are you, and that you abide, is.

    Examine in your own mind why you're trying to help. Because you've been taught it's the right thing to do? Because you want to be seen as a good? Because you're afraid of what they'll do if you don't help? In many ways you sound as if you're insecure, and the help you give people is to make yourself feel stronger. If this is so, you've got it backwards. Strength doesn't come from helping people. Being able to help people comes from strength. Goodness is not in what you do, but in what you are. If you help someone because you want to help them, the helping is its own reward. To expect something out of the one you help is to open yourself to pain because some will be like your friend - take and take without concern for you. They are selfish in a negative way. To be selfish in a positive way is to do what you do because you want to do it. The act is its reward. To try to be good by acting will ultimately fail.

    You are strong, priyanka. You are an artist, as are we all. As you look out into the world, realize it is mirror that you hold up to explore yourself and all that you can be. Don't look out and say "I am weak." You're not. You have created the world in which you live. As you come to know who you are, that you always abide, so will your world change.

  • i've been a good friend for a long time, always helping my friends in everything but today i just realized that Im kinda alone,i help my girlfriend to get back on track she was so sick and economical helpless, a couple of friends were homeless and i give them help, when they need me im there but if i ask for something they're always busy, a part of me ask for the part that i give them in return, i know that i didnt give to receive something but i think is fair, doesnt it? now im trying to do things for me and myself only, but it feels lonely, now i feel like if theres no one by my side i cant continue, and thats so sad :S

    #7955 | Comment by luis on July 3, 2011 5:06pm

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