Selfish Altruism

I have recently become quite enamored with the idea of being selfish. No, I haven’t just lost my moral compass and decided that Imma do what I want. Quite to the contrary, I have come to the conclusion that if I want to be a good person to the people around me that I care about, the first step is to be a little bit selfish.

I spent a lot of time trying to erase myself as an entity. This leads to a lot of obsessing over one’s actions, but also to just being an ass because you refuse to speak up about what you like or dislike, put forth your opinions, or be present. I tried to be a good friend and to do nice things for people, but at the same time I refused to see myself as a real human being, which meant I didn’t give myself the ability to actually act effectively in the world. Mostly I just spent a lot of time trying to get out of other people’s way. This isn’t a particularly good way to be good to others.

Even for those who don’t go as far as I did, when you spend all your time sacrificing for others you’re likely to be a fairly unhappy individual. When you’re unhappy you’re less effective, less energetic, less kind, and less creative. Being a little bit selfish negates a lot of these problems. It’s as simple as organizing your life in such a way that you spend a fair amount of your time doing things that you enjoy or find fulfilling. They don’t have to be harmful to anyone, but it does mean accepting that you’re worth your own time and effort: thinking about yourself. Being selfish.

When you spend more time thinking about yourself and how to keep your own emotions well adjusted, you become a far more stable and content person. This gives you a stronger base to actually do things for others as opposed to running on fumes just to always say yes to others (but never actually accomplishing much). It also means that you’re less likely to react poorly when others do things you don’t like. This to me is the best thing you can do for the people around you: take care of yourself well enough that you can handle their daily ups and downs. It’s amazing how much that helps everyone.

Part of this is that when you do things for yourself you have more to give. You get rejuvenated by the things you care about, and so even if you’re spending time on yourself you still probably have more time to give to your family and friends because you’re not exhausted, miserable, or angry all the time. Let’s say you’re someone who loves dancing. It makes you feel passionate and joyful and full of life and energy. But you have a family to support and so you don’t do it and instead get a job as an accountant and hate it all the time to pay the bills for your family. Do you really think this is the better choice for your family? Do you honestly think that having more money makes up for being pissy and cranky and miserable all the time?

People who love you do actually want the things that you bring to the table. They want the joy you bring to the table when you’re dancing. You’re likely to be far better at the things you enjoy and thus will end up doing more for others with them. There’s always a balance. Having a day job might be the right choice, but incorporating the things you love into your life will make you more giving when you do have time for your family.

A final thing to consider is that when you’re being altruistic, it’s important to people that you mean it, not that you’re simply doing it out of some misguided sense of duty or martyrdom. When you have a strong sense of self identity made up of some strategic moments of selfishness, your family and friends know that when you are with them or do something for them, you truly mean it and probably enjoy it. That will likely mean more to people than just having someone they can walk all over.

Sacrifice can be highly altruistic, but not when it’s all you do. If that’s the case, then you don’t even have a self to sacrifice, it doesn’t mean the same thing, and it’s just not helpful because you have no pool of resources to give from. It seems counterintuitive, but the best ways we can contribute to community is by doing things that are actually good for us, whether that be helping others by using talents we enjoy or by taking the time for ourselves to refresh so we can behave like a decent human being.

Yeah I’m selfish. Because I have a self and that self deserves caretaking. It makes me a better person.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s