I’ve a confession to make: I’m a very selfish person. But then, so are you. And so is everyone else.
When you volunteer some Saturday evening to help feed the homeless, you’re being selfish. You come away feeling like you’re a good person, that you’ve helped others less fortunate than you. You love feeling like that.
When you give up your career to stay home and raise the kids, you’re being selfish. You want your niños to get the best start in life, because that will reflect nicely on you as a parent. You’ll feel good about yourself knowing the worthy sacrifices you made, and you expect your kids will someday appreciate all you’ve done for them.
When you choose freely to become a nun or a priest, you’re being selfish. You’re convinced that such a vocation is your best bet for living a joyous life. You enjoy the self-discipline, the giving of yourself to God, and being surrounded by other people who feel the same way.
Yup, ’tis true
Any time you do something that’s in line with your values, you’re being selfish. There’s no way around it. You might not get any instant gratification from doing these things — in fact, you’ll probably suffer a little — but in the long run, you expect you’ll be left reaping the rewards.
Smart selfish vs. stupid selfish
Given all of the above, you shouldn’t even waste your time trying to be unselfish. It’s an impossible goal. Instead, learn to distinguish between what M. Scott Peck (affiliate link) calls the path of smart selfishness and the path of stupid selfishness.
Peck describes it like so:
The path of stupid selfishness is trying to avoid all pain. The path of smart selfishness is trying to discern which pain or suffering, particularly emotional suffering, is constructive and which is unconstructive.
Stupid selfish me
I wrote in the Course In Courage email series about how I failed my first girlfriend. To make a long story short, I avoided all talk of our impending break-up and just let the relationship fade out. I was trying to avoid all pain, and it actually worked pretty good… at least for me. But my ex was left frustrated and heartbroken. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized what an ass I’d been.
Smart selfish in that situation would have been to sit down and talk things out. Sure, there would still have been tears and pain and hurt feelings to deal with, but it would have been the constructive thing to do. We both could have moved on a lot easier had I not been so stupid.
I’m pretty selfish here in Spain right now.
I guard my time closely as I work hard to generate some sustainable income. Nobody here gets why I’m spending 50-60 hours per week in front of the computer, especially when I have no boss to answer to. I’m the strange Irish guy who goes to bed early and turns down party invites.
But I’m trying to do the smart thing here. I know what my goals are and what I’m working towards. There’s some pain and sacrifice involved, but it’s of the constructive variety, geared towards setting me up for my daring adventure.
How are you selfish?
Are you on the smart or stupid path? Think about your motivations for doing what you do. Are you trying to avoid all pain, or do you find yourself taking on some suffering for your long-term benefit?