This Is Why You Can’t Stop Being Selfish

What, did you really think you’re not?

In her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness”, Ayn Rand wrote:

“In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil.”

She has a point. 
If I ask you to think of a selfish person who would it be?
We associate the word ‘selfish’ with negativity. It’s likely the person you thought of is someone you either resent or you hold a grudge to.

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Do you also find someone’s selfishness infuriating?

We all do. And guess why? The answer will probably shock you.
Think about it clearly for a minute. When you rant about someone and wonder “how can X be so selfish?” — Why does it really bother you?
Well, it’s not because you care about the greater good. It’s because you care about yourself. First and foremost. Surprise! You are selfish too. I bet you didn’t think about yourself when I asked you to think about someone selfish, right?

Sure, you probably care about the benefit of others. But even then it’s partially out of self-interest. It’s either because you love them or because you morally believe that you should worry about them. There is still an element of trying to please yourself.
Don’t get upset, though. As Ayn Rand wisely wrote, the problem isn’t with being selfish but with our perception of it.

‘Selfish’ — lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

The first part of this dictionary definition really speaks volume. It dictates our perception. And that’s completely wrong. Being mainly concerned with your own personal profit doesn’t mean you lack consideration of others. The other way around would be more accurate, though. Being concerned mainly with others’ personal pleasure means you lack consideration for yourself.

Being selfish isn’t a choice

George Carlin once said:

“Environmentalists don’t care about the planet. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that someday in the future they might personally be inconvenienced.”

Caring about the place we live in isn’t wrong. Nor does pointing at potential damage. But portraying it as a selfless act is mostly a self-righteous act. And a lie too. It’s obviously in our best interest to protect planet earth. It goes deep down into the very core of our existence. We want to survive. Which is possibly the ultimate selfish act. And that’s totally fine.

Your selfishness isn’t your fault. It’s a given.
Like most animals we are wired to put ourselves first. 
It’s our instinct to protect ourselves, long before we even consider helping others. That’s why we call those who put themselves in danger only to help others heroes.

Some years ago, I had a traumatic incident. A person attacked me viciously. He punched me straight in the face and kicked me several times while shouting “I’m going to kill you.”
This person was my neighbor. He is my parents’ age and had known me since I was a toddler. That didn’t stop him from being violent, both physically and verbally.
And while he was punching me, I noticed another neighbor standing close by, and watching the whole thing.

A week later, that neighbor who observed the attack, came to see me. “I don’t know what happened to me,” he said, “I wanted to help you but I just couldn’t. I froze in place.”
I appreciated him for saying that. It’s only natural to fear for your own life and do nothing even when you see someone in need.

Love thy I

“To say “I love you” one must know first how to say the “I”.”
-Ayn Rand

While some of you might find it hard to accept this: calling people out for being selfish is utterly wrong.

Sure, you can definitely put others first and do things for them. 
But here’s the catch — 
When you put others first, you simply won’t have time or energy left for yourself. As I said before: being concerned mainly with others’ personal pleasure means you lack consideration for yourself.
But if you let go of the common misconception of selfishness and put yourself first, you will be able to fulfill yourself and help others in a more concrete way.

The most valuable lessons I learned as a child were from my role models: my parents, my siblings, my close friends, and my favorite teachers. They weren’t my role models just because I loved them. It was because I observed their actions and took example from it. 
The truth is, you cannot set an example for others if you’ve never done anything for yourself. You can’t teach someone what you’ve never learned yourself. And on that same note — you can’t expect someone to fall in love with you if you never fell in love with yourself.

For that reason, those who we call ‘people pleasers’ can never set an example for others. While they have great intentions, they always depend on others’ acceptance. The more they please people, the less chance they actually have of accepting and taking care of themselves.

I try to be as selfish as I can

Yes. You heard me right. 
Being selfish should be an aspiration.

There’s a whole section here on Medium called ‘self’ yet we still don’t want to be called “self-centered.” It’s one of those twisted moral high grounds of ours. That’s why many of us never admit they are content. Somehow, saying “I am happy with my life” is conceived as bragging. It’s why we often argue about who’s the most miserable person. I’m sure you’re familiar with this contest. We pretend we have many struggles in our lives, even though most of them are completely made up.

I create and publish articles and videos to help others start or continue their self-fulfillment journey. In a way, I am always encouraging people to be a little more self-centered. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

You see, I truly want to help others. But having this desire comes from within. So it’s fair to say I am doing this for my own interest. For selfish reasons. And there’s absolutely no shame in that. 
I’m fulfilling myself by helping and guiding you through your own fulfillment. It’s not a contradiction. It’s a perfect sync. A loop of selfishness.

But the thing is, even if it was an option you couldn’t possibly expect someone else to fulfill your life for you. People like me can help you, guide you or motivate you, but it’s ultimately up to you to be consumed with your own self-fulfillment journey. To be fanatic about it. To really care about yourself. To be selfish. That’s why it is called self-fulfillment.

We need to distinguish the difference between not caring about others and putting ourselves first. We can’t keep misusing the word selfish.
Perhaps what we need is to find a better word or phrase to define those who don’t care about others. Those who will not show any interest in you yet expect you to love them unconditionally.
(Any suggestions? share them in the comments below)

I’d like to finish with a few important questions we should all ask ourselves:

Am I helping others but not helping myself?
Am I afraid of being called ‘selfish’?
Am I doing anything to fulfill myself?

Don’t be just a little selfish, every now and then. Be really selfish. Use the beauty of this term and start or continue your self-fulfillment journey now. You owe it to yourself.

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