I’ve always found this word “selfish” intriguing. It’s such an empty word by itself yet there are so many loaded meanings and emotions to it. An artificial word, yet a powerful label.
To be labeled “selfish” is not a nice feeling for many of us so we would do whatever it takes to avoid being labeled as such, mostly, to try to put the happiness of others ahead of our own.
And it’s such a popular ideal through human history in most cultures that a lot of people give up what makes them happy to “fit in” the consensus. the problem is, general consensus is just a bunch of ideals, concepts and labels that are all so empty inside.
We are all so uniquely different, yet we live our lives feeling like there is a bigger, more powerful entity that is called “most people”. I always wonder where this entity really is, or is “most people” just an idea existing in individuals’ minds. It seems to me most individuals choose to be controlled by the code of conduct by invisible “most people”, and not feeling happy.
“Most people” is not an entity who has a mind; only individuals do. And if anyone who attempts to regulate your behaviours by saying this is what “most people” do or don’t do, tell them they can’t possibly speak on behalf of anyone else.
A student in my Self-Hypnosis class once brought this up, “I was once called by strangers selfish because I didn’t want to have children.”
I myself had this experience too. I was travelling in a central American country. When I shared I didn’t have children, a village man made sense to himself by saying, “Of course. You are still young.” And I said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with being young. I will not have one.”
“Because I didn’t sign up for any child in this lifetime maybe?”
The reaction that village man gave me was like that I have just said, “I don’t have a God.” – A subject I didn’t even want to touch. I was afraid that he was going to have a heart attack.
After a while, he did ask, “Don’t you think that’s selfish?”
What made him think it’s not selfish to bring a child to this world of suffering?
I was glad the student didn’t rush to give birth to a child just to get rid of this label. Also it made me wonder what had happened to the person who passed along this label freely.
In his book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty, Harry Browne invites the readers to do such a visualization:
Let’s imagine that happiness is symbolized by a big red rubber ball. I have the ball in my hands—meaning that I hold the ability to be happy. But since I’m not going to be selfish, I quickly pass the ball to you. I’ve given up my happiness for you.
What will you do? Since you’re not selfish either, you won’t keep the ball; you’ll quickly pass it on to your next-door neighbor. But he doesn’t want to be selfish either, so he passes it to his wife, who likewise gives it to her children.
The children have been taught the virtue of unselfishness, so they pass it to playmates, who pass it to parents, who pass it to neighbors, and on and on and on.
From this visualization, it’s logical to say that if we are all “unselfish”, there will be nobody who would enjoy the benefits of our unselfishness. I remember when I host group hypnosis sessions in my place, there is one very comfortable recliner, but people would take a chair or a seat in the couch, so that the last person who shows up has to take the recliner. I bet most people want it, it’s a hyponsis event, that recliner is obviously more comfortable. But not to be labeled as “selfish” is a strong motivation for a lot of people to “pass along the red ball”.
However, this is not a motivation, according to Browne, this is a trap, a trap taking you away from your true happiness, if unavoidance of this label becomes your motivation.
Why? We were taught to put others’ happiness first. It all sounds so great and ideal. The only problem is, we do NOT know what makes others happy. There is no way to know. Everybody is so differernt. The best we could do is to figure out a social standard and behave according to stereotype – such as buy women diamonds buy men sports game tickets? – so we can assumably make others happy. I don’t know about others, but for myself, what others think would make me happy does not necessarily make me happy.
The only thing we can surely know is what makes ourselves happy. If I always make myself happy, at least the world has one more happy person. If I try so hard to make others happy, the world will have more frustrated and unsatisfied people, simply because we can’t possbily know what makes others happy.
Paradoxically, to make others happy so you can own an “unselfish” label is still a selfish motivation.
We can’t help but being selfish. Everybody is unselfishly selfish. What’s the shame about?
I would not choose anything to avoid or embrace any labels. No labels can touch my true happiness. I only selfishly care about my own happiness. Selfishness and honesty are closely linked.
And my help to the world lies in me basking in my happiness.
And when someone accuses you of being selfish, just remember that he’s upset only because you aren’t doing what he selfishly wants you to do.
– Harry Browne