On selfishness

self·ish[ˈselfiSH]
ADJECTIVE

  1. (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure:
  2. “I joined them for selfish reasons”

One of my least favorite aspects of human nature is demonization. I don’t know if it is inherently human to seek ways in which to feel superior to others but it is absolutely everywhere you look. Racially, politically and socially we make assumptions and cast aspersions in order to well, let’s call it what it is, to feel better about ourselves. We call each other racist, rich, poor, spoiled, uncultured, and any other labels that seek to classify and denigrate others. One that has been sticking in my figurative craw is selfish.

It never ceases to amaze me how people, and this is a behavior that I suspect is here to stay, are compelled to compare value systems as if theirs and only theirs is the right one. How they have to weigh in on the way others live their lives. My take on this is simple and oft-heard. To each his own. If someone is happy, not bothering anyone, and not harming children and animals then I don’t care what they do or how they live their life. That extends to the extent of time and effort expended in the pursuit of their own interests.

Ayn Rand, the much-maligned Russian novelist known for strong and controversial opinions noted in The Virtue of Selfishness,

“In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends . . . and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is concern with one’s own interests.
“This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

The long and short of it is that I think it’s ok to look after yourself. There are many popular euphemisms surrounding it;
You must take care of yourself before you can take care of another…
Put your oxygen mask on first…
Take a breather…
You can’t pour from an empty cup…

All of these allude to the notion that at some point you must come first. I find it to be a valid concept, especially if you are a person who dedicates a considerable amount of personal resources to the assistance of others. Yes, take care of yourself first. But what if you are a person who does the bare minimum, or maybe nothing at all in the service of others? Is it acceptable to villainize them for looking after their own needs only?

There are many people who, not out of contempt for charity or out of deliberate disregard for others, simply dedicate their lives to the pursuit of their own interests.

I believe every person has a purpose in life. Many people feel as I do and they strive for that purpose in building a career, growing or creating a business, and working towards countless goals. There are too many to list. But bottom line, they are comfortable enough worrying about their own lives. I don’t condemn people for this. The reason one person stands out as giving and generous and selfless is because there are plenty of people who are not. It’s just how we are wired as individuals and it is not always something that can be changed. Or villainized.

No person is more villainized along those lines than the person who has the brave audacity to admit in a crowded room that they don’t want children. I feel for these people because they are constantly forced to justify it. They are challenged;
“Don’t you want to carry on the family name…?”
“What about the joy of creating life…?”

The list goes on. It’s especially bad for women. It’s as if it comes down to the fact that because they are able to conceive then they must. How Catholic. It is perfectly valid, especially in 2022, to not want to bring a child into this world.
Parenthood isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of BAD parents out there. There are also a lot of children that are born into despair and poverty with little hope for survival, never mind a future. Raising a child is prohibitively expensive, physically and emotionally draining, and requires complete and total commitment. As I always said, once you have a child your life is no longer about you. It is not something that everyone can even do. Recognizing that and choosing not to make the leap is perfectly ok. It doesn’t make you selfish.

Selfishness can be a bad thing and I’m not defending it. But not everyone who is focused on their own life and goals is necessarily a bad person. In many cases a person is barely able to handle their own life, never mind assisting others. The term is used as yet another harmful and judgmental label. To me, it flies directly in the face of a saying that I believe should be in the Declaration of Independence…

“Live, and let live.”

Situational people watching

I have written about this many times, my proclivity for people-watching. It is a natural extension of my curiosity about humanity. I’ve always done it and it has been brought to my attention more than once and I have come close to being punched over it. Note to self, when a large drunk at a bar says “what are you looking at?”, don’t say “you don’t know either?”. I barely talked myself out of that one. Generally speaking, I don’t mean anything by it I’m just very aware of people. I study them.

It has occurred to me recently that people-watching is situational. Sometimes it is just observing, casually playing the guessing game.
What does that guy do for work?
Is she happy or just pretending?
Is that dad a good dad or not?

Sometimes I dig a little deeper and in a more melancholy manner.
Does that guy playing on his phone while out to dinner with his family know that he is missing out on a memory right now?
Does that clearly harrowed professional-type at the bar know (or care) that he is killing himself for a job that would replace him if he dropped dead tomorrow?
Is that older gent sitting on a park bench at 11 on a Tuesday enjoying the day or missing someone right now?

The great epiphany I recently had was that my inquiries and observations were based on the place I was in at the time mentally. To be more specific, was I in a good mood or bad? Was I healthy or ill? Was I feeling good about my place in life or battling with the ever-present-in-my-life inferiority complex. That revelation opened up a whole new line of thinking for me. I realized that much of it, and this brings me no joy at all, was a comparison/contrast. In other words, how, if at all, do I compare to them? This extends to Social Media as well. Am I the only person to ever see someone’s profile and wish my life was as good as theirs? Sure, there are people who give credence to this…

But there are also people who really do have a great life and their FB is accurate. While I genuinely try to be happy for everyone and I enjoy the aspect of FB that allows you to see what people you know and like are up to, depending on where I am at the time I am capable of comparing notes and subject to the green-eyed monster known as envy.

This was never as bad for me, in real life as well as scrolling Social Media, as when I was sick on dialysis. I was broke, sick, and depressed and everyone’s life looked better than mine. Despite not really believing that my current situation was in any way a result of bad choices but instead illness, I people-watched as a jealous fucking teenager.

When I recovered from my illness, I people-watched from a much better place both publicly and on Social Media. I was outwardly and genuinely happy for people and able to study people in a more objective, superficial, and harmless manner. On social media, I mostly marveled at the apparent failure of the educational system for graduating people with no knowledge of spelling and sentence structure. In public, I was drawn more to the happier people and focused on what their secret to happiness was. Any negative observations were mostly focused on negative and angry people. I also identified with the unhappy. I will always be the champion of the unhappy among us and will always want to understand. Maybe to identify causes that I can understand, definitely to help. Any envious tendencies would focus on the physical; mainly guys in better shape than I because I will always, always, always want to look better. This damn body dysmorphia will never go away.

I could, but won’t go on and on. You get the point (I hope). I am pointing out that people-watching, as in life itself, depends on the perspective from which it is being viewed. It is just another layer to contemplate as I watch my fellow humans on their journey along this giant spinning rock…

From what place does this observation come from, where is it going and what can I learn from it?