A New Look At Selfishness

Is it better to be selfish, or self-less? Is there a way to achieve a moderate balance? The messages are mixed – at best.

It can be hard to decide where the balance point is, especially if you’ve never taken the time to consider the issue for yourself. And if you’re taking your cues from society, you’re likely to be very confused.

I remember the first time I went on vacation without my children. I was nervous and worried but also fried and really needed a break. I was snapping at the children a lot and not pleasant to be around. A few days away with my girl friends was just the thing. How was it received by others? Besides the friends I was going away with, I was greeted with judgment and disdain! I was actually asked how I could leave my children to do something for me!

This type of reaction is not unusual. We are taught to put our own needs aside and put all our focus on others. Regardless of what society thinks, it’s important to figure out your own stance on selfishness.

Over the last few months, being selfish is something I've had to embrace a bit more. The last two years without an actual holiday have left me exhausted and burnt out. It has been important for me to step back and take some time for me.

I know I'm not alone in feeling this way so I wanted to provide you with a fresh look at selfishness and provide you with three exercises you can do right now to help you develop your own peace with whatever you decide is right for you.

Modern culture prizes selflessness and abhors selfishness, in effect setting the two against each other.

“The alternatives are either to love others, which is a virtue, or to love oneself, which is a sin,” wrote social scientist and philosopher Erich Fromm, in his essay titled “Selfishness and Self-Love.”

While no one would argue with considering others, it could be worthwhile to re-examine our beliefs around being selfish. Do we really aspire to be without concern for ourselves? Or is it important to value and love ourselves, to think for ourselves, to have a life of our own and to be able to love others without losing ourselves? How do we differentiate between valuing ourselves and egotistically indulging ourselves?

The answers lie in self-knowledge. When we undertake an inner journey and come to truly understand ourselves—the sacred and profane dimensions of our lives—we develop the capacity to deal honestly, thoughtfully and lovingly with ourselves, as well as other people.

“The process of attaining self-knowledge both softens and strengthens us and serves to help us love and appreciate life and other people,” says Bud Harris, author of the book Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance.

Understanding ourselves better means discovering the negative effects of our histories, working to change them, building on our strengths and potentials, and relating to people in a more straightforward, authentic manner. It also means learning to love ourselves, to take in the fullest meaning of the biblical maxim “Love your neighbor as yourself.”