A New Look at Selfishness
Think back to when you were a child. Remember being told, "Don't be selfish." Modern culture prizes selflessness and abhors selfishness, in effect setting the two against each other.
"The alternatives are either to love others, which is a virtue, or to love oneself, which is a sin," wrote social scientist and philosopher Erich Fromm, in his essay entitled "Selfishness and Self-Love."
While no one would argue with considering others, it could be worthwhile to re-examine our beliefs around being selfish.. Do we really aspire to be without concern for ourselves? Or is it important to value and love ourselves, to think for ourselves, to have a life of our own and to be able to love others without losing ourselves? How do we differentiate between valuing ourselves and egotistically indulging ourselves?
The answers lie in self-knowledge. When we undertake an inner journey and come to truly understand ourselves-the sacred and profane dimensions of our lives-we develop the capacity to deal honestly, thoughtfully and lovingly with ourselves, as well as other people.
"The process of attaining self-knowledge both softens and strengthens us and serves to help us love and appreciate life and other people," says Bud Harris, author of the book Sacred Selfishness: A Guide to Living a Life of Substance.
Understanding ourselves better means discovering the negative effects of our histories, working to change them, building on our strengths and potentials, and relating to people in a more straightforward, authentic manner. It also means learning to love ourselves, to take in the fullest meaning of the biblical maxim "Love your neighbor as yourself."
"Self-love is the firm foundation that determines how strongly we can give love and receive love," Harris says.
Consider how being selfish can lead to selfless acts. From years of personal experience, as well as coaching great men and women, I've come to understand that selfishness leads to selflessness. When we care deeply for ourselves, we naturally begin to care for others - our families, our friends, our greater global community, and the environment - in a healthier and more effective way. We tell the truth. We make choices from love instead of guilt and obligation. We soon realize that we're all connected and that our individual actions affect a greater whole. There's so much wisdom in the advice we all receive from our flight attendants, put the oxygen mask on yourself first so you may assist others around you.
So many people come to my coaching practice having "lost" their "self" along the way. They yearn to connect or reconnect to their authentic self and life purpose. We begin our co-active coaching with self-discovery exercises and quickly move on to strategies of self care. Dis-covering (literally uncovering) your true, authentic self is not only a gift to you but a valuable gift to others around you. The strength and confidence gained through self-discovery work and taking care of oneself first leads to more focused productivity in life, work and community. Going from self-lessness to self-focus can release more energy to be used in service of others.
Inner work, or the quest for self-knowledge, is greatly aided by the following tools of self-discovery. Inner work is not a quick-fix but a life-long deepening of the connection to your truest self that can enrich all life beyond words.
Writing in journals is not just recording events, as in a diary. To journal is to explore feelings, thoughts, experiences, to look for connections and themes, to express the innermost aspects of your life experience. Best is to pick a time-the same time every day-for regular journaling. If you can't think of anything to write at first, just write, "Can't think of anything, can't think of anything," until the hand begins to fly with the stuff just under the surface. You can start with a question: What went well today? What am I grateful for? What am I wishing for? What hurt or upset me today? What am I afraid of? Read Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, for great suggestions on journal writing. http://www.theartistsway.com
Take a sheet of paper. At the top and write two columns labeled positive attributes and negative attributes. Under each heading list your attributes that fit in that category. Include anything that describes who you are as a person from your perspective and from what others have said about you. If you find yourself putting more items on the negative side, then stop! Make sure your positive side keeps up. Remember you may even find that the same attribute goes on both sides of the sheet.
When you are finished writing your lists, review them. How do you feel about the description? Are there any attributes you want to change? Which ones are you most proud of? Take time to reflect on the attributes and honor them. Recognize that every person has a combination of positive and negative attributes - that is what brings beautiful diversity to the world. Rejoice in the magical, complex person that you are. Acknowledge and accept others as magical, complex people as well.
Without first loving and caring for yourself, you will not have the internal resource to love and care for others. Don't get caught in the trap of believing that self-love and self-care are selfish. They are not. Genuine self-knowledge and self-acceptance increase your ability to support and give to those around you. Remember, you cannot give away what you don't have.
How do you show yourself love and appreciation?