Today’s Topic: Why It’s Okay to be Selfish
On some basic level, almost everyone is selfish. If we weren’t, we’d likely not be where we are right now. Most people use the term ‘selfish’ as a negative trait for a person. They’ll say you’re selfish if you care about your own needs more than others, or that you’re selfish if you don’t drop what you’re doing to help a friend, family member, or even a random stranger. Yet, what does it really mean to be selfish? Why does everyone think of it as a negative trait? Why is it bad to be selfish?
The short answer is that society grooms us to fear being a selfish person because of how we interact with each other. Many functions of society would be hindered if everyone become 100% selfish and stopped caring about anyone else but themselves. To give time, expertise, and/or money to someone in need or an organization dedicated to helping others without expecting anything in return is the epitome of a decent human. You help a friend when they’re in trouble, lend resources (usually only if you can spare them), and give your all to those around you.
In reality, life doesn’t work that way. Let’s say I want to start living my life without selfishness (though for the sake of the argument we won’t go to major extremes for my example). I have a job, friends, and family at the moment, so let’s focus on how this changes my dynamic with them. For my job, I’ll stay longer hours (with or without extra pay) because the company needs it, thus losing time and adding to my daily stresses. For my friends and family, I’ll help them with anything they need at the drop of a hat. I’ll do their errands, clean their living spaces, help them with work or schoolwork, loan them money, buy them food, and anything else they could possibly desire. I do this became I put their needs above mine and want to make sure that they’re taken care of.
Now that I’ve done all of that, there’s roughly an hour left in the day for me to sleep before I have to do it all over again. After a week straight of doing everything in my power to help those around me, I’ll likely pass out from fatigue and lack of food (did I mention I gave away most of my money to friends and family and as such can’t afford groceries or other basic necessities?). Even though it’s clearly obvious that I’m probably the person who needs the most help after looking after everyone else, asking for help or rescinding the resources I’ve given to others would be considered selfish, as I’m doing so with only my own needs in mind.
We’re all selfish. The example above went a little more extreme than I would have liked, but it’s what I imagine the perfect selfless person does. Life isn’t about being selfish or selfless – it’s about finding a balance between the two that works for you and those around you. I help my friends and family (and even strangers and coworkers) as much as I can without hindering my own health and well-being, and in return most of them do the same. There will always be people who don’t understand or don’t care about the balance; they’ll either give or take more than they take or give. It’s up to each individual to find the balance between the two and try their best to be as selfish as they are selfless.
As a final point, it’s pretty hard to try and take care of everyone else when you don’t have time to take care of yourself. Think of oxygen masks on airplanes: you’re instructed to always make sure yours is secure first before helping others. You won’t be any good to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Being selfish is not only necessary, it’s natural. Self-preservation is – literally – what keeps us all alive long enough to help others.
Unless you’re willing to give up all of your worldly possessions, friends, and family for the sake of helping others and being more selfless than selfish, chances are you’re not going to have a very good experience. The next time someone says that you’re being selfish, the easiest reply to give is, “Aren’t we all?”