From the very beginning, we are taught that one of the biggest hurdles in the way of our flourishing is our own selfishness. We are asked to think more of other people when taking decisions, see how we are failing to view things from their perspective and be aware of the ways in which our actions, small or big, might harm someone else. Being good, in the end, means putting others at the very centre of our lives.
But for some of us, the problem isn’t that we don’t pay any heed to this popular discourse, rather we pay too much. So much that we forget something very essential to our survival – the self. We develop a hesitation about saying outrightly what we feel or an inability to say no or cause the slightest irritation to others.
And as a result of our dedication to run away from the tainted word ‘selfish’, we fill our calendars with meetings with people that bore us or continue working at offices where we are not valued or slag our way through relationships that should have been dead long ago. And then we wake up on one fine Sunday morning to realise that we have spent years and years of our lives in pleasing others only to not be rewarded; we have mistaken self-surrender and meekness for being kind.
The priority may then be to look inside and see if we still have something of ourselves left. We need to now learn about the good and the bad versions of selfishness. The bad version makes us exploit and reduce others, out of meanness and negligence. The good version allows us to take care of ourselves in a healthy manner; it must be there for us to be able to sail our boats through the rough tides that life pushes in our direction. Without it, we might as well be sailing wherever the waters take us. We might as well relinquish control.
By holding hands with the latter version of the word, we may need to start sparing some time out for ourselves. We could get ourselves labelled as self-indulgent by going out golfing or working on a book or attending counseling but only because this self-indulgence is essential to our very survival. How can we imagine of serving others kindness when our own heart is empty and injured? The only intention to keep doing that could be because one wishes to become a starved bitter human.
In the end, it is open to us all – the choice to focus on the development of our psychological and spiritual sides, the choice to become more self-focused, the choice to not always do what is expected out of us.
The choice to walk towards a more fruitful healthy version of selfishness.