Do We Do Everything For Our Own Selves?

People do everything for their own self. When somebody said this to me long ago, I had dismissed the thought as useless banter, completely convinced that all we do is not just for ourselves. There are friends and family and bosses who receive our love, attachment and services.

I have seen my aunt working all day, doing all household chores with a smile, answering all my innocent questions why she didn’t get any time to rest and why she doesn’t get tired! She didn’t seem to work for her own self…one more convincing thought that reinforced that we don’t do everything for our own selves!!

Probably I wasn’t mature enough to understand or I didn’t want to. She worked all day because she didn’t have a choice. She had to make her place in the family she got married into. Those were the times when women who thought for themselves; got kicked out of the house they were married into.

This thought reverberated in my mind recently when I went to see a very sick friend who could barely recognize me or talk to me. As she lay there, struggling to talk to me in unrecognizable syllables, I felt so helpless. To be honest, I felt most uncomfortable and wanted to get out of her room as quickly as possible. I asked myself…‘what am I doing here?’

The answers that I tried to draw out of me were quite surprising and enlightening. ‘It was my moral duty.’ ‘I wanted to show I cared.’ ‘It was expected of me.’

All of them connected with me! Had I done this for my pride, my own ego and myself, in order to escape my own distress? Did I visit her for my own peace of mind?

Was it what experts call ‘psychological hedonism?’

Eager to seek more answers I went to the ultimate savior – ‘Google’ and discovered that Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth century philosopher believed that ‘our self-interest reigns supreme in all our acts.’

I have spent many days pondering, watching, understanding and analyzing…small children grab and push to get their little goals accomplished, they refuse to share and have to be repeatedly told that sharing is a virtue. Siblings vie with each other to prove their worth, probably impelled by an innate competitive spirit.

Sportsmen do the same and even can hurt the players of another team to win.

We donate only those things, which we don’t need. Even those rich who donate liberally to exemplify their generosity make it a point to highlight their kind acts in one form or the other. All charity is done to satisfy our own ego, to gain recognition, fame and respect.

Are empathy, compassion and altruism mere words, which may compel us to put up a façade of humanity to alleviate the agony of others?

All we do for others can be summarized under three headings:

  • Moral duty, which we have to perform for our family and friends
  • Expectations of others to show that we are successful and working
  • Self-satisfaction

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.” ― Aldous Huxley

All spiritual gurus and scriptures tell us that attachments are mere illusions. The sooner we detach ourselves from worldly possessions, the better it would be!

This paradox of accomplishing and then giving up with a smile and satisfaction has always confounded me.

Just look within and introspect! Ask this question to your inner self: ‘what have I done for others?’ I know many answers would crop up immediately but consider before blurting out…was it selfless? Did you do any good without expectations?

I agree with David Hume, “ There is some benevolence, however small, infused into our bosom; some spark of friendship for human kind; some particle of the dove, kneaded into our frame, along with the elements of the wolf and the dove.”

We have been trying to evolve into better beings. Good thoughts do influence us. Positivity does bring the best out of us but we need constant reminders so that those elements of ‘wolf,’ which are kneaded into our DNA, can be kept under wraps.

Many questions remain unanswered. Let’s discuss them in the comments section.

Thank you for reading this. Please add your valuable reflections, they are much appreciated.

If you have liked this article, please share it at your favorite social networks.

Balroop Singh.


45 thoughts on “Do We Do Everything For Our Own Selves?

  1. I’m glad that I read in your post what I have thought and questioned many times. I often find people do charity to get popular among society and people. Another act to display their wealth and power. It seems with every passing day, humanity is going out of fashion. Your posts are beautiful either inspiring or thought provoking.

  2. I think we do do everything for ourselves in the first instance, Balroop, and then move from there. Not in a wholly selfish way, or even planned (in most cases), but everything begins within whether we’re aware of it or not! I’m reading some good thought-provoking posts tonight!

    1. I like your perspective Tom…yes, everything begins within and the priority is self, whatever the motive. Thanks for your kind words, I appreciate them. Have a wonderful week. 🙂

  3. I would agree that often we do things for ourselves, especially if you include the self-satisfaction that comes from connecting with others, helping, acting with compassion, and making the world a better place. Living up to our ethics and values makes us feel good. But I think there are times when we humans truly act out of pure “love,” when the self isn’t part of that equation. ❤

    1. This is a beautiful view Diana, connections do make us feel good. Self-satisfaction gives a boost to our positive energy…ethics and values make us truly human…may their tribe increase! Thanks for the reminders, we need them constantly. 🙂

  4. An interesting article, Balroop, and one likely to invoke some comment! Cupidity can come cloaked in altruism, but there still is a pure and unadorned altruism, I believe. One thinks immediately of the mother who gives selflessly for her children, and of those rare beings who walk amongst us unmotivated by thoughts of burnishing their status or reputation by merely appearing to do good deeds for strangers, but who truly do such deeds with a pure and untainted heart.

    1. Thank you Hariod for sharing your pearls of wisdom here. I have written about mother, her unconditional love and sacrifices as I have seen it in my culture and I quote from my earlier article:
      “Mother is the first emotional anchor. As a baby opens his eyes, it is the mother’s face that fascinates him, it is the mother’s heartbeat he can hear, it is the mother’s tender touch that he can recognize. A mother introduces everybody to love. With her unconditional love, intuitive understanding and selfless sacrifices, she makes an indelible impression on the minds of her children. She is the sustaining force of a home and fills it with color and candor. Guided by God Himself, she possesses divine instincts to love and therefore a mother’s influence is eternal.”
      Lets keep mother out of this because she has been equated with God.

  5. I love the juxtaposition in this piece, Balroop. On one hand, we might make choices with others in mind, but there are also times when we make choices for ourselves, as you inferred with athletes and competition. For the latter, it is about self-improvement and we can go far to see what were capable of, and at some point maybe we can then around and teach and inspire others down a similar path.

    I smiled when you made the effort to visit your friend. Deep down, I am sure she is greatful. Life is not always about us, and others around us sometimes to have it a bit harder. The least we can do is show that we care and be ready go help them when the time comes. Wishing you well this week, my friend 🙂

    1. Some choices are unavoidable as we have to make them out of obligations or expectations. Many times we behave the way others want us to but the struggle that goes with it is a reminder that some fetters never get unshackled. Self-improvement and the willingness to try it lies within us… the inspiration also has to come from within.

      I agree with you dear Mabel that life is not always about us as we are all interconnected. Those connections are more powerful than our selfish desires! Thank you for your lovely insights. Have a wonderful week. 🙂

  6. I agree with David Hume Balroop. I feel as we grow old we become selfiess to some extent or in other words it is sign of maturity. But Indian parents by and large are selfless.

  7. First, I am sorry about your friend, Balroop. This can be so distressing.

    Most of my forties were taken up in counseling people. I remember one man, an AA member, who offered this quote, “Expectations are like premeditated resentments.” You know how certain things stick with a person? This stuck with me then, as it does now, over 20 years later. It changed my life, though he was referring to himself at the time. The other thing that I want to tease out is that it’s taken me many years to say No. I think this not uncommon for many (most?) women. But I have learned it.

    I may or may not have visited your friend in the hospital. I do hate these places and they leave me with the worst impressions and physical sensations. If I feel as though someone truly wishes my company, I will go. But if not, I have no problem calling or sending flowers and/or a card. To me, it’s self preservation, not selfishness. Though perhaps that’s an issue of semantics. I don’t believe so, however.

    In the end, I think many of us are likely a combination of selfish and selfless. As Hariod mentioned, perhaps this is because we have been mothers. And maybe all we can do is to be mindful. Simply observe and reflect on our motivations and aspirations. And yes, I’m a fan of detachment – from both outcome as well as ‘things.’ At least that’s my path. It might well not be another’s!

    Aloha, Balroop! Enjoy your week ❤

    1. Thank you Bela for sharing your profound and honest reflections. Expectations often lead us to the path of frustrations yet they ingrain themselves unawares…often I think how do they become a part of our thought process? I have really worked hard to wean myself away from them and found much solace.

      As I have mentioned earlier in the post, I couldn’t have avoided that visit to my friend because I considered it my duty. She was my school friend who deserved to see my face in her distress and disease. Detachment from old memories is quite painful.

  8. Very well brought out, Balroop. Selfishness and selflessness are both actuating factors of human behaviour, one aiding material progress and the other lifting the spirit up towards higher realms of fulfilment. Shades of gray fall in between to hold the balance.There is no being without allowing these polarities to be.

    1. As usual your thoughts are so balanced and uplifting Raj…material progress dominates most of the minds and the higher realms are often undesirable! Thank you for your kind words, much appreciated.

  9. Everything stems from self. We react from within ourselves. How react depends what we are feeling: sympathy, delight, obligation, inclined, etc. 🙂 Thought provoking post as always Balroop. 🙂

    1. You are right dg…all our reactions are directly linked to our own emotions and self reigns supreme! Thanks for the visit and kind words. Stay blessed. 🙂

  10. There are a few comments pertaining to selfless acts. In a Facebook page that I follow daily, I noticed that mothers (men included) are now sharing their recipes more or less freely because some individuals have been so generous in sharing their skills and knowledge. It has certainly rub off. One Super Mum wakes up at 3.30am, 4.30am to prepare cooked breakfast of noodles with prawns (seafood features almost daily) for breakfast every day even on Sunday. For her son’s A level exams, she cooked her son noodles with crabs.

    1. I am glad to hear about the selfless love of mothers and as mentioned earlier in one of my replies, the unconditional love of mother is the only love we can bank on forever! As a mother I too have carried out all my responsibilities without looking at the clock.

  11. Balroop, with this lovely post of yours, you have forced your readers to look inward and reflect, while I agree with you that selfishness and selflessness are two sides of a coin and on most of the occasions, one tends to be wrapped in oneself and selfnessness comes, as you rightly said more as a sense of duty and responsibility and not out of acts of compassion, chivalry or charity…may be out of empathy, sometimes.But there is a fine line demarcating between doing one’s duty and being unparsimonius, for example, a fauji lays down his or her life for the sake of protecting the motherland – is this call of duty or being unselfish in defending from the enemy, if he wanted to, he could have stayed away from the battlefront, so I feel there is a small element of selflessness mixed in all acts of responsibility and moral obligation and the dividing line gets blurred..of course this does not happen in most of the instances when people tend to be carried away with greed, avarice, intoxicated with power, prejudice, acts of benevolence to gain popularity or attraction. More often than not, the person comes into existence only when the seeker needs something from him or her! Your classification on the three reasons for doing for others are so appropriate and yes, many a time, my acts of help have given me a personal satisfaction, but isn’t that selflessness because the receiver of your acts of kindness is not knowing the levels and intensity of satisfaction gained out of this succor and support!
    I think that achievements are interwoven with sacrifices which are a result of being selfless and that is the reason we have a Gandhi or a King or a Lincoln in our midst.
    There is immense depthand profoundity in the words that you have typed in this insightful post of yours and I was inspired to key in a larger comment because of these words “Many questions remain unanswered. Let’s discuss them in the comments section.

    Thank you for reading this. Please add your valuable reflections, they are much appreciated.”

    1. Thank you Sunita for such a thoughtful comment.
      I am delighted to note that my words could invoke self-reflection, which is so enlightening. Often we brush aside such thoughts, either due to too many pressing issues on our mind or we don’t like to get into self-argument as it can thwart our ego. All chivalry and compassion is an effort to exalt ourselves from the ordinary…they too have a hidden purpose – self-gratification and embellishment of our personality.
      Your fauji example reminds me of Hardy’s poem that I had taught to +2 students for many years…”The Man He Killed” This poem considers the irrational situation of war, and diminishing patriotic motives of the soldiers that meet one another on the battlefield. It expresses the internal battles that soldiers face and what all they have to do for earning their bread.
      Why we have just one Gandhi or one such leader (in some part of the world) who can be quoted for selflessness is an eloquent example of doing everything for our own selves. 🙂

  12. I always enjoy hearing your thoughts from when you were a child, Balroop. Picturing you questioning all of the adults in your life (like your Aunt, in this post) puts a big, fat smile on my face. You are right that most of our good deeds have some self motivation within them. Often it makes us feel better to help others. Does that mean it’s selfish? Not always! Some rich people make anonymous donations…that says a lot about them not requiring recognition. Hmm, so much to think about in this one!

    1. Thank you Lisa…I have many such anecdotes from my childhood, some of them embedded in memory because they made a deep impact on me. I asked so many questions that a number of times my aunt would say…’why invites conflict’ yet I would keep on insisting on the ‘why’ of each incident and situation.
      I am glad most of the readers have tried hard to quote one odd example of selflessness…good things never die and they are worth emulating. 🙂

  13. Very thoughtful arguments you have put together. I am not convinced that whatever most of us do is for the good of other – this is a materialistic world we live in! I would tend to believe in the contrary though.

    I can just think of Mother Teresa who did most for the others. There are people who do good, but not to that extent. Maybe because spreading positivity around doesn’t guarantee our prosperity…as humans we want to be sure! Alas!

  14. Thanks Alok. We can find as many excuses as we want to for lack of selflessness but the fact is that it is an innate trait, which can’t be avoided albeit we can work on it to some extent.
    We can find some random examples in history but they are just the role models…nobody actually follows them.

  15. You ask us to look ever deeper into our inner selves Balroop.. I sat for a while pondering upon what you said.. And yes in essence most of us do things ultimately for ourselves even though at times we may not recognise it as so
    I thought back to my serving others as I went perhaps that further ‘mile’ to help those I supported.. Did I do it to help them.. Yes.. but I also got a great sense of achievement and satisfaction from helping them, So yes ultimately it was also serving me..
    🙂 Thank you Balroop for always bringing to your reader questions we need to be still asking ourselves..

    Love and Blessings your way
    Sue ❤

    1. I am glad that my words impelled you towards pondering…isn’t it so enlightening? There is a strange feeling of achievement in this also! I have always felt that self-questioning is immensely rewarding as we always get to know some ambiguous parts of our personality and also get an opportunity to work on them to emerge as better human beings. 🙂
      Thanks for being so understanding. Love and hugs dear Sue.

      1. Delving deep into our inner being often uncovers aspects of ourselves we may not all like at first glance .. But peeling away these layers sometimes are painful, but in the end its is allowing us to get to the core of our hearts.. And with each layer we cast off.. We emerge Lighter and Lighter. 🙂 xxx

  16. This is interesting Balroop and I don’t know if I can articulate a reasonnable answer to this question. Everything starts within us. This I am sure. Most of the time we do things for ourselves, and we would love people to do the same for us. I suppose it’s only when we let go of the ego that we trully give our best. We have the choice to act and don”t think about what this act means. Or to look inside and decide whether we do this thing for ourselves first or others.
    I’ll think more about it. Thanks for raising our awareness on this topic. take care.

    1. You are right Marie, we keep on searching answers, which actually lie within us. Introspection and self-questioning on regular basis can help us. ‘Self’ is a very powerful entity and feeds on attention. There is a very thin line between ego and self and it often gets blurred in the pursuit of self-gratification.
      Many thanks for sharing your views and thinking more about this. 🙂

  17. A very thoughtful and introspective post Balroop. Though late in catching up , I am glad I did. Somehow, i tend to believe that mostly people (including myself) exhibit empathy, compassion and altruism to the extent that benefits them in some way either by means of self satisfaction or emotional gratification or in any other form of relief. Even when we love our children, we do so because we find it emotionally gratifying and second because we have to. Similarly every act of kindness uplifts us in some way and makes us feel good about ourselves. So yes, I do think that we do everything for ourselves/

    1. Thank you dear Somali for such a clear and candid answer, which only comes from understanding ourselves and I am glad to have you here as one of such friends who have the courage to speak eloquently.
      I agree with you that what all we do for our children also is linked to our own emotional gratification…I salute you for saying that! 🙂

  18. I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness.” Selfless acts make the doer feel good, so in essence, our actions ultimately serve ourselves. So is there such a thing as selflessness? Yes and no.

  19. You are brutally honest in this post, Balroop, so much that if you happen to post this on today’s social network, you are supposed to raise a debate! I agree that we often show love, empathy. compassion to others because we think it’s our moral duty or the thought that lurks behind our mind is, “if I don’t do this, people will call me an unsympathetic person”. So, we do this for our own good, to satisfy our ego.

    This is a harsh reality, too harsh to concede with…

    But of course, there are a few instances of selfless love and, some of the readers have already discussed that. Besides that, the ‘dove’ in our mind tries to improve itself as our conscience is present there. Perhaps, that is the reason why the world is still a wonderful place to live in… 🙂

    1. You are right Mani, most of the people tend to think that they are nice and kind but the old dictum “adversity is a great teacher” holds true in most cases. It is ‘adversity that introduces man to himself,’says Einstein and most people realise how selfish they can be!
      This world becomes a better place with those who try to work on human imperfections and we learn that slowly! 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your perspective, always appreciated.

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