Are We Really Selfish Or Just Branded So?

Selfish-person-quotes-care-for-others-quotesWhen this question crops up in my mind, I try to seek an answer within myself first. Am I selfless? After much thinking and admonishing myself, I try to extract an honest answer out of my evasive mind…

Well, we all have selfish tendencies- it is only human.

At times I might have offered my services, done something good for others, without expecting anything in return. Is that enough?

I have given unconditional love to my children and family but another question confronts me…doesn’t everybody do that?

‘No, everybody doesn’t do that’, says my friend.

Why are children abandoned, abused, killed? Many of them grow up in acute neglect.

So I went on to search…what exactly is selfishness? While it was so confusing and mind boggling, two definitions appealed to me:

According to Wikipedia: “Selfishness is placing concern with oneself or one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.”

According to Oscar Wilde: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”

I again asked myself: Do I fit in here? I have never placed ‘my interest’ above but my inner voice slowly speaks: sometimes, you have!

I ignore that voice and tell myself: I have never asked others to live according to my wishes. But these arguments didn’t melt my doubts.

Why did I choose only these definitions? Because they suit me?

This reminds me of a woman who gave up her successful career to look after her ailing husband. She was applauded by everybody and was called selfless, but she admitted that she was selfish because she had placed her own concern over and above anything else.

“A selfless act out of even the purest desire to do for others, will be selfish in the satisfaction and happiness it brings to one doing it.”―Ashly Lorenzana

My friend thinks falling in love is also selfish! Isn’t that absurd? How can the basic human emotion make us selfish?

When I try to analyze further, I agree with the reasoning: Love makes us selfish. It crosses all boundaries, it transcends all values and it drags us away into our own world.

“Love is the most selfish of all the passions.” ―Alexandre Dumas

I ponder further…

Even those who work for the welfare of others are selfish as they have their own goals in mind… perhaps they want fame, power, self-fulfillment or are eager to record their names in the pages of history.

So I realized that:

  • Selfishness can be defined according to one’s own perspective.
  • Selfish traits are inherent.
  • Self- interest takes us closer to our goals.
  • Selflessness doesn’t bring any rewards.
  • The more you acquire, more selfish you become, whether in terms of money or knowledge.
  • Selfish people are actually weak and insecure and unhappy.

Lets look within:   preview

  • Are you kind and considerate?
  • Are you tolerant?  
  • Do you listen to others?
  • Do you really understand the feelings of others?
  • Do you respect the opinion of others?

I know we all nod to the above questions without giving a profound and honest thought to them. I also hope these questions will keep guiding us towards better understanding and enhancing our personality.

If selfishness hurts you, don’t forget it hurts others too. A little concern for people around us makes us emotionally balanced and less selfish.

Have you come across selfish people? Do you have a different understanding of selfishness? It’s your turn to share your valuable opinion.

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19 thoughts on “Are We Really Selfish Or Just Branded So?

  1. “Selfish’ is the accusation that hurts me most with “liar”. Both have hurt me VERY deep mainly when coming from my dad as a kid. I was selfish if I did my homework before helping my sisters, selfish if I decide to play with kids, selfish if I eat before making sure no one else is hungry. I wonder now if That teaching wasn’t the main reason I never learned self love? Having to always put other’s needs before mine?

    1. Hi Nikky,
      I am so sorry this accusation has been hurled on you in the past and so shockingly! These everyday acts , which you have mentioned come spontaneously to a child and he/she is too young to understand the meaning of this term ‘selfish’! No, I don’t believe we should put other’s needs above our own. It depends on the circumstances…and eating? only if we are eating all that is at the table, without caring for others may be called selfish. If there is enough food and I am feeling hungry, then why should I not eat?
      I know Nikky, hurts which are given by our own most dear relationships are most agonising. Good parenting plays a very significant role in our upbringing and if parents use such negative terms so often, we start doubting our intentions and actions.
      I also didn’t learn self love in my childhood but I managed to do as I realised it can be developed with my own efforts.
      Thanks for your visit, I greatly value your words.

  2. This is absolutely terrific, Balroop. I have to constantly check myself to make sure my actions and kindness to others are truly unconditional. I’m an unselfish person no doubt. But it’s the former that I need to keep a watchful eye on. Good post to think about on our walk this morning, our friend 🙂

    1. Thanks Mike, your visit is greatly valued here. You are right, we have to keep an eye on our actions and make sure they are directed well. I am so pleased to note that you are going to ponder more on these thoughts.
      Also, isn’t it strange that many new thoughts and ideas cross our mind when we are take a walk? Many times I feel, I should sit down and record those thoughts because they completely slip out when the walk finishes! So I keep repeating to myself…’this is the thought’, remember, remember!! LOL!!

  3. Deep and wonderful questions you’ve posed Balroop.
    I suppose love can make us selfish if we try to keep the one we love all to ourselves. Other than that, it seems like love makes us more unselfish, because we think about that person’s well being above our own.
    As you said early on, it is human nature to be selfish, and takes much self awareness to resist.

  4. Hi Denise,

    Yes, I like your view…’love does make us selfish’! when somebody said so, I didn’t believe it but when I tried to analyse, I could understand how love makes us selfish! And the awareness comes much later, when we experience various aspects of love.

    Thanks for adding your perspective, I hope slowly we do develop self awareness!

  5. Selfishness is an inherent trait. I would call it a natural instinct. A small child wants everything. He never likes to share anything. However as he grows up he is groomed and taught good behaviour. It all depends on his upbringing and environment. As adults, we learn to pretend. We portray ourselves as selfless and caring individuals. The truth however is far from reality. I feel everyone is selfish in one way or the other only the degree varies. God has made us so.

  6. I agree with you to some extent. Selfishness may be a human frailty but we can develop being large hearted, if we make some committed efforts. Pretence can be very well understood as camouflage doesn’t work for a long time…others too have the insight to see through this facade.

    God has made all of us in His own image…only we fail to come up to His expectations. Some persons who remain selfish through out their lives and don’t pay any heed to the goodness of others are the real losers.

    Thanks for standing by Baldeep and spare your valuable time. I appreciate it.

  7. Hi Balroop,
    The first definition you gave for selfishness is the exact opposite of wisdom because one of the characteristics of wisdom is to have concern for the welfare of others.

    What I see as the real issue here is the human ego which is the cause of unhappiness and suffering. This realization should help people understand how important it is to have purity of heart intentions.

    Kind Regards,

    1. Hi Bill,

      Welcome to my blog! I appreciate your honest opinion. I am happy to note the purity of your heart, which seems to have met good people…I have seen a lot of such people who consider themselves wise, pretend to be selfless but only work for their own welfare.

      You are right, ego plays a bigger role in spreading unhappiness all around.
      I have written another article on ego, which is ‘How Much of Self Love’, probably you would appreciate that.

      Thanks for standing by, much appreciated.

  8. Good post and food for thought Balroop. Love to me is not selfish if you love in the right way, unconditional. When you love and expect nothing return. I feel when people do something for others and don’t expect anything in return this to is being selfless. To me like giving to a charity when you give it with your name unattached this is giving from the heart and not needing that thank you. It is an act of kindness and knowing that you are not getting anything in return.
    Selfishness is always expecting something in return.
    Thanks for sharing Balroop,

  9. Hi Debbie,

    Welcome to my blog, I appreciate that greatly. It gives me much pleasure to note that selfless love is still alive in some hearts. Real love is meant to be unconditional, otherwise it is not love! I wish more people could think like that.

    Actually such values have kept goodness alive around us…human nature is just the opposite of what you have said. People give charity just to show their wealth and large heartedness but neglect the elderly members of their house!

    Thank you so much for adding your perspective, much appreciated.

  10. Hi Balroop

    Don’t we all have to be a little selfish in order to survive? We are of no value to others if we don’t take care of ourselves. Does the pride in us relay to the act of selfishness? We could probably have a whole lot less and give so much more to others. Do we need more than one coat or one pair of shoes? The answer is yes, but if we were not selfish we would have to say no.

    If we are comfortable in our own life, then we are so much more willing to share with others. I am not impressed with those that give because they feel obligated to do so. Sorry but that is not a gift of giving, it is a release of feeling guilty for having so much. As they say charity begins at home and I believe in your own community also.


  11. Hi Mary,

    Welcome to my blog…once again I would say…what an honest remark! Some of us have a great difficulty in admitting that we are a little selfish…doesn’t my article begin with such an honest introspection?

    I wouldn’t call taking care of ourselves as selfishness…at the same time, there is a very thin line between taking care and self gloating which eventually may lead us to being self centered. Pride often leads to arrogance! I have talked about it in another post…’How Arrogance can Harm our Personality’.

    I agree with you that we have to be comfortable to offer it to others, we have to be healthy, happy and contented to take care of others but if we cross that thin line that separates us from the selfish, we hardly ever realise that we keep getting deeper into just into our own needs!

    Thank you so much for adding your valuable insight, it is greatly appreciated.

  12. Great post! It’s a great topic to think about isn’t it. After all, for most of us, the person we lie to most often is our own self and so it’s interesting to try and think through the true motives for our actions, and in particular the seemingly altruistic ones.

    Nonetheless I do believe finding our fulfilment in the flourishing and wellbeing of others is not secretly selfish. In fact, I’d say that when helping others feels good to us we’re being our most authentic and healthy version of ourselves.

    Human beings are wired to love, and so I guess I’d call those instances when we’re selfish – and I know we all have them (I have tons) – a sort of dysfunction; something, like you say, that we do out of insecurity or fear or weakness. But the more we mature and grow and manage to get free of our hangups, the more we realise that the ultimate joy can only be found through generosity and love. Through valuing the wellbeing of others.

    Like a wise man once said. It truly is more blessed to give than it is to receive.

    1. Hi Micah,

      Welcome to my blog…you are so right…it is good to introspect, that is how we can embellish our personality and what could be a better way to know our real self. Yes, we often lie to ourselves and sometimes slip into the world of denial. if we keep asking ourselves a few basic questions, we can spread goodness all around us.

      We have to make a conscious effort to be truly generous and selfless…it also depends on the kind of environment we were raised in, the kind of peer group we had and the values we picked up from our parents.

      Yes, I agree…you are really blessed if you can give! I hope you have also read my opinion on ‘Do you Believe in Giving’?
      Thank you so much for your valuable contribution to this discussion.

  13. Excellent blog…short,beautiful and got a pithy observation. We all are selfish. It’s hard to move away from its clutches, but if it bites our family life ,then it will be really venomous . I think only GOD can soothe this very human nature.

    1. Thanks Sunoj, welcome to my blog! Your words mean a lot to me.
      Selfishness often begins from homes…may be it has some roots in the upbringing but we all have some traits though we try to keep it within limits. when it crosses those boundaries of goodness then, it does become toxic!

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