I was going to title this post “The Difference Between Independence & Selfishness”, but I love to reframe things and see it as one of my roles to help us reframe things that society has twisted ridiculously.
Thus, I chose to put a different spin on selfishness rather than involving independent lifestyle into the mix.
Maybe I can write on that in a separate post.
I have an entire new section in the catalog devoted to reframing: See those articles here.
I’ve been thinking about selfishness a lot lately. Partly, because I have been leaning a lot on my friends & family since my Mom’s death, partly because I’m still single, and partly because sometimes my married friends say they’re sometimes jealous of how I can come, go, & do as I please.
In looking and asking, “what is true selfishness anyway?”, I started with a quote from Oscar Wilde I love:
“A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.”
This quote in and of itself is a paradigm shift, because it immediately changes the social construct that choosing ourselves, honoring ourselves, and enjoying our decisions is “selfish” or self-centered.
What a ridiculous accusation.
Instead, this quote immediately presents the idea that, perhaps wanting what’s best for the SELF actually isn’t selfishness. Perhaps selfishness rather, is pushing our desires or wants onto another or wanting their values to match our own. It’s the premise that choosing ourselves actually more resembles self-honor.
I always thought it was so strange when you fly on a commercial airline that they advise you to put your own oxygen mask on first, THEN your children or people around you. “How SELFISH of advice”, I always thought. “Who, in their right mind, wouldn’t mask their kid first?”
Then, upon further logic, I realized this makes the most sense. For how can I save my child or another person from suffocating if I can’t even breathe myself?
Have you ever asked why we consider choosing ourselves as selfish anyway?
Where did that idea form, and how in the world does it now carry so much weight?
It’s downright derogatory in many respects and to many folks to choose yourself first.
Society has almost made it unnatural.
That’s different than perhaps making ourselves more important than everyone and everything, however.
When we assume we’re the most important thing in someone else’s life and to Life itself, well then now we’ve slipped into narcissistic territory.
The world doesn’t revolve around us - we know this. Well, non-narcissists know this.
THIS is selfishness.
What’s NOT selfish is wanting and desiring to be that red rose. Being the best damn red rose on the block. Polishing that rose. Growing that rose. Positioning that rose for greatness. Loving the color of the rose. Presenting that rose in the best way you know how.
You get the metaphor.
There’s NOTHING selfish about choosing to focus on being your best self and doing it in the best way(s) you know how.
Here’s the thing: Inherently, we’re all self-centered. Don’t read that through the typical negative paradigm the world has given us, either.
What this actually means is that, by nature, we experience things & people through ourselves. Through our own worldview, eyes, ears, brain, & experience, we observe & savor the world around us.
This isn’t rude or selfish - it’s what allows your consciousness to exist and BE. It’s what essentially gives us the ability to RELATE to others and thus, be in “relate”ionship with others.
We HAVE to know the SELF we are embodying & carrying. Otherwise, there’s no real “relating” at all. There’s nothing to relate TO.
Without being centered in the self (self-centered), we don’t have this experience. And not having this experience with others would make us not human.
The same place compassion, love, kindness, & empathy comes from (the self), is the same place it’s counterparts can come from - harshness, unkindness, and inconsideration. So when we say someone is “self-centered”, we really need to be more specific. HOW is she self-centered? And WHY? Instead of just automatically judging it and assigning negativity to it.
There are 2 great examples of how we can make it seem like we’re not self-centered AT ALL:
Attempting to make someone else way more important than us, to the point we want to make it seem their livelihood & lifestyle is more important than our own. And…
Continuously telling ourselves we should be something we’re not.
In both of those scenarios, how we end up is lost, distorted, confused, un-centered, and with low self-esteem. In both, we know we’ve left something behind that’s needed. In both, we realize our own need to reconcile who we are with who we stand in front of in order to relate to them.
To be clear, we can have immense amounts of compassion while remaining self-centered.
Yes. I said it.
Because the truth is, in order to properly give to others, we must be focused on who we are, what we’re about, and how we give that self to others.
Jesus gave himself 40 days apart from ANYONE, yet was known as one of the most sacrificial, loving beings to walk this planet. His time choosing Himself and time with His spiritual practice of prayer & isolation allowed him to fulfill that plight.
He was one of many who have employed this same practice, because they have understood how choosing themselves stimulates the next step for those they lead & surround themselves with.
On the other hand, some people will try to make you feel as if you’re egoic if you center on yourself too much. Like you’re too much in your ego.
They aren’t the same thing.
Ego-centric behavior actually doesn’t focus on YOU at all - it is the part of us that wants us to be separate from ALL things - even from ourselves. The ego will do what it can to relate everything to ITself, not even to OURself. The ego doesn’t even want YOU to know YOU - that’s how powerful it thinks it is.
Conversely, self-centeredness is the act of trying to experience everything and everyone THROUGH our self - through our worldview, values, thoughts, experiences, & dispositions. All for the purpose of growth, expansion, integration, and interpretation.
The ego wants you to attach to any & everything outside of yourself, so that you are consistently wanting more - money, cars, houses, clothes, anything with form. It’s the queen or king of the evil cyclical materialistic process - as long as there’s never enough, there’ll never be enough to have or do. Ego is augmented by doing & having.
The self wants to actually experience, feel, inquire, modify behavior, evaluate, then relate what it’s discovered. It’s augmented by being.
The more we get to know ourSELF then, the more selfLESS we can actually be. Self-centeredness allows you to be, so you can give. Ego doesn’t.
In the knowing of self, we become the subject in our own life and not just an object in everyone else’s.
There’s nothing selfish about this.
In short, until we understand and intimately know this self God has created, we can’t possibly think of giving it to another. And if we try to do so before we go through that process, that story usually ends in distortion, sadness, grief, discomfort, anger, disappointment, stalemate, and soul-level damage.
To be honest, I don’t want to be in relationship with anyone who’s never been self-centered. Centered on themselves. Understanding of their own desires and nuances. A digger of life and origin.
We can over-worship a person who is seemingly always so “self-sacrificial” when that can actually be the most damaging thing FOR them - and us. If you haven’t explored your OWN being, how can you start to RELATE to mine?
Finally, I want to bring up one more important point as it relates to selfishness: How often we rely on OTHERS to intuit and almost interpret what our needs are and what’s fulfilling for us.
To the point we start taking on their projections, judgments, and opinions.
In other words, we can way too much lean on how another interprets what our needs are.
That’s fallible, at best. Detrimental, at worst.
THIS is why assertive living is SO important. THIS is why we train to be able to ask for and say what we need to say. THIS is why it all matters.
Telling ourselves they should just know is too high of an expectation, and it’s to our detriment.
It will take exactly one minute. You could close your eyes
while you’re doing it or you could keep them open. It
doesn’t really matter. Think of someone you love very
much, someone you’re close to, someone who is precious
to you, and say to that person in your mind, ‘I’d rather have
happiness than have you.’ See what happens. ‘I’d rather be
happy than have you. If I had a choice, no question about
it, I’d choose happiness.’ How many of you felt selfish
when you said this? Many, it seems. See how we’ve been
brainwashed? See how we’ve been brainwashed into
thinking, ‘How could I be so selfish?’ But look at who’s
being selfish. Imagine somebody saying to you, ‘How
could you be so selfish that you’d choose happiness over
me?’ Would you not feel like responding, ‘Pardon me,
but how could you be so selfish that you would demand I
choose you above my own happiness?!’
A woman once told me … ‘The test of love is sacrifice,
and the gauge of love is unselfishness.’ That’s marvelous! I
asked her, ‘Would you want me to love you at the cost of
my happiness?’ ‘Yes,’ she answered. Isn’t that delightful?
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? She would love me at the
cost of her happiness and I would love her at the cost of
my happiness, and so you’ve got two unhappy people, but
long live love! —Anthony DeMello
This seems ridiculous to read, but do you know that THIS is how so many people interpret love? It’s preposterous.
Going through our own self-centeredness and selfishness process then, could have us instead taking these approaches:
I am here with you now because I want to be – not because I need to be, because I should be, because I owe it to you, or because I will feel hopelessly guilty or desperate if I am not.
I am helping you now, not because I am socially or even morally obligated, not because I hope you will, or need you to, return the favor – but because I have the desire and the energy and peace of mind to do so.
I cannot tell a lie, I am interested in myself, I am irrevocably invested in my life – and I am okay with the fact that you are too.
Build yourself your beautiful life – for I cannot pretend that I could do it for you. But I want it for you, just as I know you want it for me too. So please don’t feel guilty on my account, there is nothing better you could do for me - for your happiness, like your sorrow, touches me too.
Thus, I propose through our own journey of selfishness & self-centeredness, not as the world has made it, but insomuch as we’ve explored it internally, we become our highest versions & extensions of love, compassion, empathy, understanding, passion, & freedom.
We stop loving mask to mask, and we START loving divine being to divine being, self to self, and soul to soul.
I want us to work better with the ideas of self-centeredness, so we can show up for each other the way in which we were intended. We can change the paradigm, and I hope these thoughts & tools can help us get there.
Resource Used: I’m not an affiliate of Dr. Catherine Collautt - just a huge fan of her work.