The Real Definition of Selfishness

The Real Definition of Selfishness

While I gently press the trackpad of my MacBook Air with 3 of my delicate fingers, a popup comes out of magic powder and delivers the following message:

selfishness |ˈselfiSHnis| noun

the quality or condition of being selfish: an act of pure selfishness.

Oh. Thank you. That was very useful. You asshole program.

Well, the truth is that there can be many definitions of selfishness. Yeah, the World is like that. And also Google gives about 538 000 results. Hello.

The only definition that really matters though is the one that is stuck in your head. Consciously or not.

Why’s that?

Because if it’s important to you—consciously or not—you’re going to behave in a way—consciously or not—that is going to fit that definition.

So better get it right. Right?

Hence the following question. Just for you. (Please check out the big letters right below.)

WHAT DOES SELFISHNESS MEAN TO YOU?

Yes. Very important question my friend. I mean, if this is important to you. If it’s not and you don’t mind being a selfish dick, please close the tab and go back to Facebook (that’s OK, no one will judge you). But if it’s important, you better have a clear answer because else… OOPS! You slide back to the unconscious world. And you don’t want to slide back there without a helpful definition.

I personally had to ask myself for 2 reasons.

First, because I deliberately do not want to be a selfish asshole. Emotionally, my mom’s education coupled with some Church brainwashing at young age made me see selflessness as a high virtue. But more importantly, intellectually, I don’t think it helps anyone in the long term, whether myself or others.

Second, because avoiding being a selfish bastard made me feel like crap.

Yeah. You read that correctly. Weird huh?

I value not being selfish, but behaving in a selfless way didn’t seem to be helping me at all…

How is that possible?

The answer is actually pretty obvious once you know it: I had a wrong definition of selfishness stuck in my brain.

THE DEFINITION OF SELFISHNESS YOU DON’T WANNA HAVE

“I’m selfish when I don’t care about others, when I don’t help others or when I don’t take others in consideration”. That was my definition of selfishness. Seems legit right? Probably made up at 10 or something. Pretty simple. And also pretty crap.

By all logic, if I didn’t want to be selfish then all I had to do was taking care of others, helping them and thinking about what they need, right? Right???

Well, as slow as I am, it took me years to realize that this is only one part of the equation. And I actually forgot the most important one.

WHERE AM I?

Yes, the most important part is ME.

Because if I take care of others, others will take care of me right? The truth is the answer’s a big NO. And for several reasons:

  • people are busy taking care of themselves
  • people don’t know my needs, only I do know
  • people project their own needs onto others, so they don’t help mine
  • even if express my needs, they change

The thing is people don’t have to fulfil my needs. They can if they want, but there’s no obligation. Even if I fulfil theirs. Yep, life is not fair!

As soon as you put fufilling your needs in the hands of others only, you lose. Because you have no control over that. You’ll always have to depend on others’ availability or willingness to help you. But if you learn to take care of yourself, then you have full control.

So I have to take care of myself, and change my definition of selfishness.

THE RIGHT DEFINITION OF SELFISHNESS (THAT WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE)

“I’m selfish when I take care of my own needs ONLY, without any consideration for others”.

So now if I don’t want to be selfish, all I have to do is take care of my own needs AND take others into consideration.

Yep, I’m back into the equation. Feels so much better.

But wait, there’s more.

YOU HAVE TO PUT YOURSELF FIRST

What? I hear you. It smells like selfish asshole all over again!

But let me try to explain with this:

People who do not experience self-love have little or no capacity to love others. — Nathaniel Branden

Or if you’re more into TV here’s the debate between Phoebe and Joey about the existence—or not—of selfless good deeds:

More into airplanes? What about this article about putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others?

What I mean by putting yourself first is not rushing through the doors in front of others, or eating that last part of cake in front of your children. What I mean is that you have to go for what feels right to YOU. For what you believe in. You take others in consideration, you listen, you respect, but you act according to your own needs first.

In psychology of self-esteem this is called benevolent, or healthy selfishness.

Because if you don’t, you’ll be resentful. And when you’re resentful, you lose it all. You become manipulative, you become controlling, passive-aggressive, you give with strings attached, you isolate yourself. Everything becomes a covert contract. You just give to people in order to receive back. This is frustrating, this is dishonest, and this is actually selfish. And at the end, it doesn’t help either you, or others.

So take care of others, but take care of yourself first. Life will be much better. And when you’re better with yourself, you’re better with others.

At least that’s how it works for me.

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