A funny thing happens when I teach the principles mentioned in the last post on the virtue and morality of selfishness. Most everyone who reads them says, “You know instinctively I always knew that was true. But I was afraid to discuss it because of the reaction I would have received. But it really makes sense in the big picture. I can only help those I care about if I help myself first.”
Then the backsliding starts...
They get out in their everyday lives and get assaulted by the usual programming. They start to feel guilty. Then they start to think their prosperity and happiness comes at the expense of others. Then they start looking for examples when it would be better not to be selfish...
I had this very discussion with a Mastermind Council member in my old coaching program after she read a lesson on the topic. She told me, “I agree with so much you say in there. It just makes sense. But I can’t go along with everything, about selfishness always being good.”
“So exactly what part of the lesson would you dispute?” I asked
“Well, let me see, I have lots and lots of notes on this lesson. Let’s see...I like this, I agree with that, hmmm, this makes sense...”
And so it went. Finally she said, “Well I can’t really disagree with anything you said. But I just can’t agree with you that selfishness is good. I think back on the times when I’ve been selfish, or my husband has been selfish and the arguments we’ve had. And I think about what it takes to make a relationship work long term. And I just am not sure...”
“That,” I exclaimed,” is because you have not really thought out and come to grips with a congruent philosophy that you live your life by.”
She thought about that a minute, and had to agree. And went on to say that this was something she was now sorting out. And that is exactly what I hope is happening for all of the readers of this blog.
So what about you?
How are you feeling about the whole issue? Do you have a congruent philosophy that you live by? How do you feel – really – when I say that your happiness should be your highest moral purpose?
Henry thinks I have lost the plot. He sent me a note to say, “My highest moral purpose is everybody's happiness.” Well that certainly sounds a whole lot nobler than mine! Or does it…
Please give this some critical thought and share your comments below.
I still have the feeling that in one level we are all ONE,my happiness is your happiness.And that our highest moral purpose should be the progress of the humanity.But if that progress depends on my happiness in doing things, I still dont know yet! You should know it,though. You are older than me and have much much experience about making people happy.And you really want people to progress! So IF you mean you only want people to progress because it makes you happy, than maybe it has to do with the point that when they progress, you also progress, and that if you are most happy when you help them,they are able to be that to...Thank you for a great blog anyway, and have a really really wonderful and happy day!
I agree with everything you have said and I would like to put it into action. I do try but then feel guilty. Is this normal? For example I love to just sit and do nothing for about half an hour after I have eaten, no phone calls, no tv and certainly no children hassling me! I quite like after dinner conversation if I have company but that's it. However whenever I try to read a book or just sit and be quiet, my daughter tries to demand my attention. I invaribly lose my temper and shout at her, have my 10 minutes but don't enjoy it because I feel guilty then end up apologising to her. What advice would you give me to make the outcome a positive one? I've had to shout twice at her whilst typing this comment! grrr perhaps I need anger management? Sarah
Randy, I could be wrong but it seems to me that people are still looking at the word "selfish/selfishness" and defining it based on the typical herd-definition, instead of the way you and Ayn Rand are defining it. And, of course, unless the premise is correct, no amount of logic will result in a correct conclusion. For example, re: Henry, who said:
“My highest moral purpose is everybody’s happiness.”
Even THAT is selfishness on his part. Why? Because he's living his life based on what *he* feels is his purpose.
Now, maybe what he is doing is productive and helps him to be happy (which, again, would be selfish) 🙂 and maybe not (I don't know enough about him so I have no way of knowing) but, my point is that if he's acting according to what he is believe is correct, then that is selfish...and that's okay.
If I may suggest, I believe that some of the issues people are having with this might also be the "treacherous dichotomy" or the "either/or" principle that something can only be one OR the other (ex: happiness OR wealth). In fact, one can be selfish and benefit others. As though being selfish must be at someone else's expense. Actually, the opposite is usually the case. I won't get into explaining why because I think that is exactly what *you* are explaining in these articles.
Thanks, I'm very glad to see you check in on this. The blog is always better when you do.
The debate about the selflessness of selfishness is fueled by a languaging problem. We've been raised to see it as evil. A guy named Dawkins back in the 70s even wrote about "the selfish gene" like it was a virus.
Look at it this way: Is "selfishness" a 'means' or an 'end'? When it's an 'end' then, in my mind, it is not a desirable trait. This is the brand of selfishness we all despise. When it's a 'means' it is one of the most powerful conduits for good the universe has even known.
Let me argue the point Biblically. In the gospel of Mark Jesus himself says that the second greatest commandments is to "love your neighbor as yourself." So which is the starting point, the true measure of love? Seems to me that the more you love yourself the more you'll be able to fulfill the commandment to love those around you. Loving yourself is the 'means', loving your neighbor is the 'end'.
Many guilt-ridden religious people act as though the commandment was "Love yourself to the degree that you love your neighbor." The human heart doesn't work that way. When you don't love yourself your ability to impact the world in a most wonderful way is zero.
It's funny how things show up in your life, I was reading through a chapter in Conversations with God Book 1 by Neal Donald Walsh and it covers exactly what you are explaining here.
The Selfishness part that most don't understand is the missing link. I never understood it so eloquently as now, and I believe it has to do with letting go of the emotional baggage we carry with us.
As I was being trained many years ago my teacher would also comment on the need to know thy self there is no doubt in my mind that we can not give what we don't have, and that applies to anything, and everything not just prosperity.
Becoming congruent with our conscious and sub conscious thoughts is imperative if we are to create the life we desire.
As always a very thought provoking article.
I think, perhaps, part of the problem and why I've always been considered, 'the black sheep' in most situation (especially in the corporate world!) is because I DO put myself first.
People DO think I'm selfish, in what they believe to be selfish.
I just guess my idea and other's idea of 'selfish' are different.
That's ok. I don't feel it's necessary to get other's approval when I know deep down what I'm doing is good stuff.
It can be the hardest thing to do what my heart says, especially for people like me who are "well brought up" - basically to comply and please!
Then there is the safety factor - it is not safe to be different because chances are I would be wrong and that could kill me!
I find that life is times when I feel at peace interrupted by periods of uncertainty. The uncertainty usually signals new learning. But we are trained to look for that peace all the time - don't rock the boat, etc - which spells for being stuck.
But nature is kind in interrupting us with Divine Dissatisfaction when it is called for!
The programming is strong and subtle. It is a blessing to have good friends who support me in breaking free and having the courage to live my purpose!
Only when I live my purpose, which is where I am happiest, can I bring happiness to others. Any other way, I will need to be given happiness by others who then have to live for me - which is really the "selfishness" we must see for what it is.
Wow, two of my favorite critical thinkers on here today! But I should have known any discussion on purpose would bring you out. 🙂
But why do I have to help myself FIRST? Can I not help my self and others the same time and be happy?Help myself in the early morning and others in the day time...I have worked as a teacher, and I know that you can never be a good teatcher for children if you are not happy. And you can make the most "terrible" children in school well by being a good happy person who gives love. I always made "the bad guys" happy and calm because I loved them and they me. But I guess you have to explain a bit further about this. Is it the word selfish who makes problems?Is that the only word you can use for the point you try to show us?Explain a little bit further,if you want.
I was thinking the exact same thing as you.
In Randy's example maybe she was selfish in the normally accepted definition.
So instead of using the term "selfish" we could consider using the term "aynrandish"
I was think of just "randish" but some people may not appreciate that. 🙂
It is complicated for most people to answer the question, what is the purpose of your life?, well I think in my case is to pursue my hapiness first so I can radiate that 360 degree around me, whatever happens after that is not my responsability, everyone is responsible for their own way of living.........GOD is them do.....namaste Javier.....
.devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2.characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.
As long as you don't define the term selfish, we all be confused. To argue that is okay to steal money legally like the bankers did in the name of Free Markets and Personal Responsability and less goverment- libertarian mindset- is selfish if we use the general definition from a dictionary.
Basically we shouldn't give a fuck about other people's lives anyway. That would be interfering in what they have set up for themselves to learn something. If we do interfere, we will have their experience instead!
That doesn't mean we ignore others, but we just aren't here to live their lives.
No one stays ignorant forever anyway, but yes, even stupidity is a mind-pattern.
“My highest moral purpose is everybody’s happiness.”
Uh, huh...GOOD LUCK trying to please everyone all the time. An absolutely impossible undertaking; makes you a slave to everyone else, with no chance of fulfillment or promotion.
Jewish philosophy has a saying: "Tikkun olam". I'm not of the Jewish faith, but someone translated tikkun olam as repairing the world, and leaving the places you go and the people you meet better for have been there and met them; at least try not to do harm.
Now, THAT we can all do, in a hundred small actions a day...with financial prosperity, we can do it in larger ways. Seems like a solid place to start.
"Look at it this way: Is “selfishness” a ‘means’ or an ‘end’? When it’s an ‘end’ then, in my mind, it is not a desirable trait. This is the brand of selfishness we all despise. When it’s a ‘means’ it is one of the most powerful conduits for good the universe has even known."
You wrote :- "you have not really thought out and come to grips with a congruent philosophy that you live your life by.”
How do I do this? Where do I start?
I'm not afraid of Action - I just don't know what direction to move in. And Ive been stuck, immobile for waaaay to long.
Bliss and blessings,
I don't think it is selfish to think of yourself first. It's a survival value that could well be translated into something - the working ground (you - the existence of you) - to begin with before extending yourself to others. When there is no 'you' existing in life that needs to be taken care of, then nothing is going to happen. Everything begins with 'you' before reaching out to others.
Unless you have the money to feed youself to stay healthy, or unless you are healthy and being able to remain active, you really can't go out there and make others in need happy, or like a restful sleep, unless you have enough sleep or rest, you really can't make your new day refreshed and remain effectively functional, and going out into the world and possibly extend yourself to help make others happy is definitely impossible because you can't even function well and help yourself out either because you're too tired.
The money is the same. Unless you have the money, you can't give it to church. Yes, you can still help others without the money, making them happy in certain ways, but with the money there are a whole lot more things you could do to make people happy. Therefore, good wealth/prosperity as well as good health are the blessing coming from God and shouldn't be remarked as anything negative.
Some statements may sound noble, but who knows..we never know those words may not always coincide with what is actually happening behind the scenes, supporting what is nobly being preached, or whoever say such a noble statement may change their thinking over night according to their needs, when great wealth comes in unexpextedly just to show how changeable or temptable our human minds are, depending on our needs at each given time in our life.
I may be missing the real core of an issue here [I hate writing in English], missing the point [lol], but the money is not actually an issue, I don't think, but in terms of what money can possibly do to add many more dimensions to our lives, and if it can make us happy and make others happy by having more wealth, then, it is worthy of our efforts to strive to build more wealth for our sake as well as for the sake of the world. ahg -saachi
Start by reading "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand and my book "Why You're DUMB, SICK, & BROKE, and How to Get SMART, HEALTHY & RICH!" And I will do more on this in the blog.
Also you should subscribe to the blog and e-zine at http://www.IanPercy.com as he does some wonderful work with companies on purpose that you would find helpful to yourself.
Thanks to you and a lot of people around the world. We know that English is not your native language yet the feedback you all bring adds a wonderful dimension to the blog.
I know that if you don´t think about yourself at all and only do other peoples will which is terrible off course, you will end up doing nothing-so with a fun sort of logic you could then make a conclusion:If you only do your own will and don´t listen to anybody,you will end up being everything!I´m working on it and the more I do, the happier I become.But is it really that simple?Well, maybe it is.One philosofer said:Life is simple, that desturbs the people...But where did you get it from Randy?Did anybody like Dalai Lama say it too?Thanks anyway for a great post
You are not alone with this question, thank you for asking it! WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?
I visit this website for selfish reasons. I want to be happier and more prosperous. I want to think differently than I do now. I see this website as a daily dose of reprogramming or deprogramming. It is a benefit to me to read Randy's post and the comments. I think a better phrase for selfishness would be "Rational Self Interest". It a favourite term of mine used I've seen used by a Tax Lawyer. We all have our obligations to other people and have to find a balance of obliging ourselves and others too - that is a part of life. But don't oblige others at your own expense!! Being selfish is good for you. It will reduce stress and bring about peace of mind.
The "I' never gets questions. It is just a positive programming machine collecting as much experience as it can get before the body drops.
According to Eckart Tolle, everyone's purpose in life is to be present here and now. To be cognizant. When we are present, the universe works with us and everything around us just works better.
I found that to be the best use of being selfish -- not to think about the past and the future that don't even exist, but to work with what is in front of you at this very moment. Tolle feels that when we are consumed in our thoughts rather than what is in front of us, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice but to those around us and the universe doesn't work in our favor.
I'm just working on being present; in listening, being and acting. I just watched "Finding your Life's Purpose" by Eckart Tolle and found that to be a great tool to work on.
I, too, get uncomfortable with selfishness being said to be a good thing. I'm thinking there is a difference in selfishness and self-centeredness. If you're self-centered, you are truly looking out for yourself to the exclusion of others. If you're selfish, you're making sure you have what you want to give to others. Arming yourself, as it were. You can't give away what you don't have.
I also think back to my training. I've been a Paramedic for about 24 years now. Usually, when you think of people in my profession, in the fire services or law enforcement, you think of noble people that put themselves in harm's way to save (benefit, give to) others. They think this is done with a willful disregard of self. Not true. The order of importance of people in a disaterous situation is me, my partner/crew, my patient. I can't very well save your life if I'm dead from what just almost killed you, now can I?
So, no, all selfishness is not inherently evil. Hmmmm. I must ruminate some more on this one...
Excellent comment !
they say when u have nothing useful to say, better keep shut.
i keep reading ur blogs but dont comment much because im non-native english speaker. although improving it day by day.
but , Randy, want to take this chance to ask u a question, hope i can write correctly:
what is the best way to define the true purpose in life? some people say it is all about intuition, some others say it is experiencing, third people say it is destiny.
Backsliding happens. It happened to me. I am back where I started with the same problems but I already took the red pill and I can't go back to being asleep.
For me life is living it everyday as best as i can, consciously living the moment. Putting myself on the edge, risk, that's where i find true raw life and everyday's beauty joy and fulfillment. Alone or with others.
I lost 20 Million USD in 2000 and my best friend died. What i learned form it is that the essence of life is living it NOW. Only love, friendship, and teh gift of life REALLY matter. the rest (although pleasant) is not really needed to be happy and can easily become your trap.
I never plan more than a day or two ahead, i give a lot without ever asking anything in return. I do not care what people think of me if they like me or not. I try to be nice to everybody, but if needed/challenged i can be tough, rude or hard.
I'm truely happy, free and in tune with the world. Finally 😉
I wish this for everybody else too (their way) , everybody can do it.
The only thing you need to resolve, is your own fear!
I will never be "normal" nor have i ever been, i have nothing with that word. The world wonders including you and me are too rich to be ever captured in one word and certainly not in the word "normal" ;-)!
A little late reply, but I appreciated your encouragement in last weeks summary of the topics of the week to read them through and reply. I have been afraid to surrender to being selfish. Atlas Shrugged touches a core within when you lead me to Ayn Rands writing years back. But so many show up hostile when I repel altruism as the only and true belief of a good hearted man. It's been as if I needed to be safe and having the altruistic approach better handled first, so I could also play their game well when suitable.
The point is though in this case it must be an either or choise. You can't be selfish AND altruistic. If you look at being selfish from the altruistic viewpoint the only thing coming up is request for definitions. Like we want to understand a concept of selfishness. But it wouldn't work unless BEING it. I am ready - closing backdoors. You Randy shows a good examble of serving the many by pointing at how to BE selfish.
Pierre Leyssac - Wonderful Copenhagen
I suggest everybody the Ayn Rand's book "Atlas Shrugged"
I know, I know, you've read it. It's OK, read it again.
I think that's the basic philosophy of the good selfishness and how to be applied in everyday life.
And also what happens when you focus in everybody's happiness..... CHAOS!