When is selfishness wrong? Being a parent, I am constantly trying to dispel selfishness in my children. Being a business owner, I am constantly challenged with selfishness on many fronts; vendors, the public, internally. The word stings, and is often used to hurt when slung at someone to call attention to their negative behavior: “You’re being selfish!” We frequently hear this when someone has fallen short of another’s expectations.
I looked up the definition.
Self*ish – adj.
1. Concerned chiefly or only with oneself. (I understood this)
2. Arising from, characterized by, or showing selfishness (Still okay with this)
3. Chiefly concerned with one’s own interest, advantage, etc. Especially to the exclusion of the interests of others. (There it was!)
I find it is a paradox as we often have to remain focused and concerned on ourselves; our health, our finances, our faith; basically to “manage our affairs”. We must “have” to be able to serve and give to any degree. Our focus must remain primarily on personal interests and that which sustains us. If we lack in the above, we suffer and then often become more self concerned, more “selfish”.
What I find is the tipping point of trying to survive, remain personally sustainable, meeting simple needs to be able to support, lead, give, or simply become part of a greater whole, is the second part of the third definition, “to the exclusion of others.”
It is the “intention” behind the behavior that can poison the action. If I try to accumulate wealth with the intention of being philanthropic, I find it less polluting than if one were to amass wealth to have more than those that surround him or her. If what I try to acquire is to leverage the opinion of me in the eyes of others, to have where others do not, to separate me from the status of those I come in contact with, I see selfishness emerge.
Being rewarded for noble efforts is not selfish. Also many are lucky to come in contact with careers or situations that serendipitously provide them with abundance. Trying to hold on to the things that are bestowed upon us is not criminal. I find it is when opportunity arises to help others in thought, word, or deed, and malicious disregard for the same environment or people who aided the ascension can be labeled selfish.
The challenge lies in our seeing something or someone as “selfish”, when it confronts the fact that perhaps we fell short of obtaining our own potential. Is someone selfish because they aggressively went after their goals? Focusing on one’s path is not selfish. A perspective of not realizing others are part of the same path whether directly involved or bystanders can be troublesome. When we feel that we are alone in our achievements is where I feel that, whether through ignorance or direct intent, is steering toward the isolation of selfishness.
We do need to concern ourselves with ourselves from time to time; our health, our frugality, faith, and relationships. I see too that upon closer examination, these are all exponentially boosted through the assistance or knowledge of others; so even our selfish endeavors are best recognized through the connection and service of others. However, when we go beyond basic survival and sustainability into greed and gain, we disregard the long term outcome and encounter eventual separation of that which we may seek. The way you treat people on the way up is how they treat you on the way back down. I have found I gain the most through gestures of generosity.
I will still try to “take care of number one”. I will still try to focus on things that benefit me, but I will also try to remain aware of the things that make me a better father, husband, employer, neighbor, and human being. My intention will be what sustains me. Shall I ever forget this, and shift to feeling that I am doing everything by myself, or for myself, I will most likely get what I asked for and fear most. I will be alone with a stack of worthless objects and no one to show off to.