Selflessness & Selfishness


Though being “a good person” is often coupled up with being selfless, being a good person is not synonymous with being selfless. Sure being selfless is a wonderful ideal to live up to, but being selfless without self-care can leave you with nothing, good person or not. Being selfless without self-care is just like not following through on the part of a flight attendants safety talk when you are told that if air pressure in the cabin is lost, to put your oxygen mask on before assisting the child you are traveling with. When I was a child I was appalled by this idea. I just could not comprehend why the child should not get cared for first. Of course now I understand that if the parent dies as a result of not putting their mask on first, they will be unable to perform their duties as a parent. Of course a child does not understand this and needs to be taught the reason for the importance of this kind of sequencing, which can be made into a lesson about responsibility and roles. In the same vein as teaching a child the value of responsibility and roles, is the value of teaching a child to not be selfish but rather to be generous and to know the principles of a wise discerning mind and a loving heart, i.e. to be a good person. However, many times in espousing the values of generosity and love we negate that there are times when being selfish is of service, to our children as well as to ourselves. Much like the analogy of putting on the oxygen mask, if we don’t care for ourselves first, all our idealistic actions are in many ways for naught. For instance what good is it to give money away if you cannot feed yourself? Or, what good is it to be kind to a person who has caused you great pain, if you cannot be kind to yourself as a result? Of course this kind of exploration of the value of self-care before selflessness can go on and on and on.

One must be clear that the purpose of such contemplation is not to negate the value of selflessness, but rather to clarify the role of the value of selfishness. When we take the time to contemplate where we can truly give selflessly without taking from ourselves something that is a necessary component in our ability to give selflessly, we are using great faculties of the mind. Such contemplations can then become tools of our witness function, enabling us to see beyond the concepts of selflessness and selfishness and into the desires motivating them. When selflessness is motivated by a desire for self-gratification is it in fact selfless? When selfishness is motivated by a desire for true generosity is it in fact selfish as we see it, in a negative light?

Knowing the ultimate aim enables clear action. If the aim is to be of service, than first being of service to self enables one to be fully of service to others. If the aim is to be loving and kind, then first being loving and kind to oneself enables the ability to be loving and kind to others. If the aim is to quiet the mindstuff than being selfish about maintaining peacefulness enables attainment of this goal.

Being a selfless person is an excellent ideal and goal to set for yourself. I know that I aim to do something selfless everyday. Sometimes, for me, the only thing I have to give that won’t take away from what I need to get through the day without falling apart is a warm smile. And because each day is different, and each moment of each day is different, what I have to give changes constantly. For any of us to truly give selflessly we have to check in just a regularly as we breath to know what will serve in any given moment. What will serve self, and what will serve others. This is where the value of selfishness resides, in the practice of self-witnessing and responding to the world accordingly.

With Love, Always, In All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,