Recently, during a discussion session, one of the students asked “Why should I not be selfish?” Though it was provocative, it was a genuine and honest question. Many of us think of such questions, but tend to shy away from asking them or probing further for the answers. In fact, we should always encourage such inquisitive questions. To be at ease and raise such questions with comfort is the essential part of any learning process. Any attempt to dissuade such questions or decry them is not useful to a healthy learning process. Also we tend to shudder at the very thought of such words like “selfish” and tend to pretend that we are not selfish or never actually act selfish. Unknown to us, in some matters one may indeed be selfish, but without ever being aware of it. Then we look at the world around us and its genuine response to our selfishness and then blame, “Why is the world treating me this way or that?”
Following are a few quotes on Selfishness (with some help from google!):
“To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate.” — Michael Jordan
“Money doesn’t change men, it merely unmasks them. If a man is naturally selfish or arrogant or greedy, the money brings that out, that’s all.” —- Henry Ford
“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.” —- Andrew Jackson
The above quotes raise several questions: Does it mean, you can be ruthlessly selfish until you become great, famous and successful like MJ? Since money exposes my selfishness, it may be better not to acquire more, at least not until I get control of my selfishness, which means never? I should expect nothing but corrupt government, bent and shaped to the will of the rich and powerful driven by their selfish motives? When one becomes rich and famous at any cost, and then such wealth unmasks the inherent selfishness, and in the process also gets control of the power in the government ……? One shudders to think of the consequences!
Understanding what is “Selfishness?”, is essential before answering the questions of why or why not be selfish. The answer was summarized by another student in the class and I have added a bit more to elaborate on the answer:
Selfishness is the creation of walls or borders around us, obstructing the natural essence which is inside, outside and all around. To be a strong person, one must be in good shape physically, mentally and spiritually. We have to be focused in order to achieve things that are good for us, but at the same time, we must share those things and help other people. When the focus becomes increasingly to meet one’s own need (of me, by me and only for me) then we become increasingly selfish. When this is an obsessive compulsion to meet one’s own needs at all cost and with no regard on the consequences to any one else, in effect that is action increasingly driven by selfishness at its core.
More: On selfishness – Part 2