A Balance to Selfishness

Someone recently asked me about how to find a balance between selfishness and selflessness. I thought this was an amazing question, so I decided to really think about it and dig deeper. Naturally, I turned to the Dalai Lama’s wisdom for advice, as this topic is heavy and complicated. And that, along with my own personal experience, helped me arrive at the following  explanation dealing mainly with the idea of selfishness.

First of all, it is important to focus on yourself in order to improve. You have to grow and deal with difficult things, often times alone. You should learn to fully love and embrace yourself. You should also set firm boundaries with others, expect respect – and accept nothing less than you deserve. All of these things require a degree of selfishness.

But the idea is that, ultimately, you aren’t doing that stuff for just you.

You are doing all of the work on yourself to be a better person. You want to be a better person for others. You want to have deeper connections, spread good vibes or energy (instead of negativity) – you want to do something to better the world.

This is where the line between selfishness and selflessness can be drawn.

The Dalai Lama uses a term called “wise selfishness.” The idea behind this is that focus on yourself can be a good thing if it is to ultimately benefit others. He elaborates a bit on it, saying that practicing compassion for others is to our benefit and makes us happy – which goes full circle back into selfishness… And truthfully, it’s really easy to overthink it and get completely lost in it all.

So let’s keep it simple.

If you love yourself, you feel good and want to share it with others. You’ll want to show compassion for others if you feel compassion for yourself. It comes naturally. So learning to love yourself fully is an act of “wise selfishness.” It benefits others.

On the other end of this healthy form of selfishness, is what the Dalai Lama has coined “foolish selfishness.” This is not coming from a place of love, and I believe it stems from our own internal strife we haven’t worked out yet. Foolish selfishness is a misguided attempt to find contentment and happiness, but it never works out in our favour. This is because the only way to find happiness is through love and compassion for others.

Foolish selfishness involves looking out for our own interests at the expense of others, not considering who it might harm. Being “foolish selfish” doesn’t mean you are a bad person – to me that is a cop out excuse not to work on oneself. It simply means you have some work you need to do within yourself.

Still not sure about all of this? Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is it easy for you to feel empathy for others and put yourself in their shoes (instead of thinking their lives are their problem and not yours to deal with)? 
  • Do you think about how what you do could affect others?
  • Do you actively change your decisions and actions if they could be harmful to someone?
  • Do you feel like the world is all connected in some manner, that what you do could make a difference?

If you answered no to any of these questions: You are practicing “foolish selfishness.”  

Looking inward can help with this. Taking some time for self-improvement, getting in touch with your emotions, and really learning to love yourself for the person you actually are is the first step.

It’s a complicated topic, but I hope this helped separate the degrees of selfishness for you. These types of philosophies are perspective based, so opinions and interpretations will always be different – this is mine. As always, I am open to other perspectives and discussion so we can learn and grow together. Have a great week, you guys! 

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