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Thou shall not be selfish
It’s an unwritten rule in the Holy Book of Life. A rule subconsciously hammered into us the moment we start understanding what it means to be human and how to treat others. If you happen to be a first child with many siblings, then your introduction to this rule occurs without you even having an idea what it means to put those under your care before yourself.
The opposite virtue of selfishness is selflessness; with selflessness being something we all are meant to embrace because it’s supposedly ethical and rewarding to be altruistic. Yet, I spent the better part of my yesterday wondering what if selflessness doesn’t exist, or what if it does but only came from a place of selfishness? I know it’s not a thought a lot of people would like to entertain because humans love to feel good about themselves in relation to the motive behind their actions.
Selflessness creates this idea in which what matters to the self is made either nonexistent or irrelevant in matters of choice. Or at least that’s how it’s made to seem on the surface. But is this really true when everything we do for others can be said to be about us first?
We act influenced by thought, feeling, and belief. And all three comes from within us. So basically, what this means is that it’s not true that we love people because they are good, because it’s only our way of masking the fact that why we really love them is because they have either been good to us or have shown enough reasons for us to believe they might someday be good to us. What this suggests is that we aren’t attracted to people because of their personality, but because of our perceptions of their personality. And that for me is what for the purpose of this musing I’ll call selfishness 2.0.
Selfishness 1.0 is clear cut: it’s a loudmouthed, “I’m doing this for me and not for anybody else”. Selfishness 2.0 though isn’t so straightforward: it’s a deceptive, “I’m doing this for you because I think it’s the best thing for me to do”. Selfishness 2.0 is what we call selflessness because the you is made to seem like it’s more important than the I even when it’s not.
A guy is beating his wife and you go out to defend her not because you want her to stop hurting but because you think having the man stop is the better solution. This is where empathy comes in, and empathy so happens to be another attribute of selfishness.
I consider empathy as a selfish attribute because it’s never really about what’s happening but rather how you feel about what’s happening. Feelings are made to be superior to fact of matter. So you say to yourself this is wrong and I need to do something about it. And you go out and knock the guy out. The woman thinks you’re doing a favour for her, and without premeditating it you subconsciously agree and come to believe that if she can believe you did it for her than it must be why you did it.
I’m not a psychologist, and while I might not understand how the human mind works from a professional standpoint, what my dealings with humans have thought me is that we like to lie to ourselves a lot without even knowing when we’re lying. And so I don’t expect that this theory of mine that all selfless acts are carried out in selfishness to make a lot of people feel good about themselves because it basically puts their conscience and intention on trial.
Ideally, none of these should leave anyone feeling insecure, but because of the moral stigma associated with being selfish most people would object to the notion that selflessness doesn’t exist independent of selfishness. Yet every single decision we make is meant to reflect how good or smart we are no matter how much we want to play it down. And so when we hurt over the loss of a love one for example, we don’t do so because they can no longer experience the desires and aspirations they cared about, but because we can no longer experience having them care about us.
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