So what exactly does it mean to be selfish? And what exactly does it mean to be selfless? Can the two exist at the same time? Is that possible?
I believe that yes it is possible to be both selfish and selfless at the EXACT same time. Impossible you say? Well let me start with telling you my definition of selfish and selfless and I’ll even through in the Webster’s dictionary definition just for fun and good measure.
To start with I define selfish as this: Having total and complete disregard and concern for others and focusing solely on one’s own needs and desires.
I define selfless as: Having total and complete disregard and concern for one’s self and focusing solely on other’s needs and desires.
And then according to Merriam-Webster dictionary selfish is defined as: “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentration on ones own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard of others” (Merriam-Webster.com, (2019).
And then according to Merriam-Webster dictionary selfless is defined as: “Having no concern for self” (Merriam-Webster.com (2019).
Well isn’t that interesting? One would think at looking at the dictionary’s definition there is no way those two states of being could exist at the same time and that is probably true to a degree. However I am going to challenge the statement that you can be selfish and selfless at the same time. I am going to show you how you can be selfish and yet be selfless at the same time. Ready?
This may sound like I am trying to pull the wool over your eyes and you may be confused but I am going to introduce you to the link between these two states of being. The link is pure and simple, though for most of use quite difficult to do on a regular basis. However, studies have shown time and time again that by practicing this link on a daily basis in healthy ways actually reduces your stress and makes you healthier. Want to know what it is? One simple word (well maybe 2 words. I don’t know if you should consider a hyphenated word one word or two? I’ll leave that one up to you. And the word is: SELF-CARE.
There that was easy.
Well at least easy to say but not always easy to apply in day-to-day living. And for some of you, you may not even know what self-care is, means and how to do it in your life. A sad but quite true fact especially for women because from a young age women are generally taught to put everyone else’s needs and wants above their own needs and wants. And at the end of the day, if there is actually some energy and time left for the woman to practice self-care, she may either feel guilty about taking that time or be so exhausted that she would rather just go to be so she can get up the next day and start all over again. Sounds pretty good right? Here’s a woman who is trying to “do it all” and she may be looking like she is succeeding at that task, but if you look at her when she is by herself you can hear and see the physical, psychological, and spiritual tolls her “I can do it all” mentality and state of being is costing her. At some point either her physical or psychological or spiritual or all 3 “health’s” will collapse and she will be unable to function at the level she was functioning or she will cease to function at all. Either way this is NOT a good place to be or a good, healthy way to live one’s life.
The problem with the description above is that society and possibly her family has taught her that in order to be a “good woman (mother, daughter, sister)” she needs to take care of everyone else and she is not to consider taking care of herself because by taking care of others she is taking care of her self. Messed up right? If this were true, then why is she sick so often? Or why is she always yelling at the kids or her partner? Or why is she not keeping up with her work duties and is being threatened about being fired?
To me, if being truly selfless was what I described above then we would have very few issues with physical, psychological, and spiritual health. But just look around you and see if this is actually true. I’ll wait a minute while you take a look around……………..Okay. What did you see when you looked around you? Did you see selfless women who looked like they had slept well last night? Who looked like they could take on the world forever? Or did you see tired women who were struggling to get kids to settle down and they were not doing well with that task? Did you see women who seemed to just be “getting through the day?” Did you women who looked exhausted and just wanted to “stop and get off the world, even just for a day?”
Are you starting to get an understanding of the meaning of selfless, as our society has taught us?
Okay so now onto being selfish. That is pretty easy because I’m guessing that for many of you as soon as you read the word selfish you got some sort of negative feeling about the word. Want to know why? You guessed it! Society and possibly family, has taught us what the word selfish means. Examples are pretty easy to come up with or so you think.
How about the person that walks by a bell ringer at Christmas time and just keeps walking right on by? How about the person who says “no” to a friend who has asked her to help her move? How about the person who does not to donate to a charity organization? These examples may seem like the person is being selfish but what if we look at it from another way. What would change if you look at the bell ringer from the other person’s perspective? How would that change things?
With the person who walked by the bell ringer, she may not be able to afford to donate any money to the bell ringer because he/she may be one of the less fortunate people who needs the donations in order to make ends meet or to be sure there is food at home for the kids to eat. The person may not be able to spare any extra change because he/she needs that extra change in order to make ends meet.
And the person that said “no” to helping her friend move may have said “no” because she has already committed herself to helping someone else and knows that she cannot physically handle helping 2 people move in the same day.
And the person who does not donate to a charity organization may do so because he/she is already getting help from a charity organization and has nothing extra to donate at that time.
So how does looking at those examples through a different point of view change how you see the person? Are they still being selfish? OR are they actually being selfless?
See where I am going with this?
There are many times that someone has to be selfish in the moment because being selfish at that moment actually leads to be selfless. And that is the basics of self-care. Being selfish in the moment for the great good of the total. The best example that I can come up with right now that most of us are familiar with is the oxygen mask on commercial flights. Before each and EVERY flight, no matter how many times you have flown, the crew tells you and demonstrates how to put on the oxygen mask if there should ever be an emergency on the plane. And what does the crew tell you EVERY SINGLE TIME about the oxygen mask. That you must put your mask on first before helping other’s put on their masks. There perfect example of being selfish for the sake of being selfless. You cannot help others with their masks if you can’t breath and are dead. Pure and simple. So therefore, you MUST be selfish, (which is a disregard and concern for others) in order for you to do selfless work, which in this scenario is helping others with their oxygen masks. You must do self-care in the moment in order to help others. And that is why practicing self-care can be so difficult. In order for self-care to be effective and helpful in restoring and rejuvenating one’s self, one must accept and embrace being selfish is the only way to become selfless.
Namaste, my friend