Selfish or Selfless
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2018
Individuals and societies need attention. A society of individuals completely self focused crumbles. An individual completely dedicated to the group, ignoring personal needs dissolves into the mass. We need a healthy balance.
We have survival needs, very individual needs demanding to be satisfied; when unmet, we suffer and potentially die. When others encroach on our needs, we panic—the body reacts. We have a right to pursue satisfaction of some needs. We shouldn’t blindly serve the larger society when the service has too much individual costs while giving very little to the society. I’m not suggesting heroic sacrifice for family or country is not honorable. Some causes transcend the individual. I bow my head in respect for the countless men and women that gave or were willing to give all for great causes of freedom and equality. But such sacrifices must be made in wisdom, not blindness. We must evaluate any government, political party, company or partner that robs us of our right to individuality to promote their interest. We often must take a selfish stand to protect our rights.
Echoing through the darkness, we hear Thomas Merton’s timeless proclamation, “No man is an island.” Many needs are intricately woven into human relationships. The “what’s in it for me?” attitude constricts borders, narrows perspectives, limits relationships and creates loneliness. We can’t survive on our own—at least not well.
The “what’s in it for me?” attitude constricts borders, narrows perspectives, limits relationships and creates loneliness. We can’t survive on our own—at least not well.
A full life requires more than individual accolades. The richness of living swells in the bosoms of well-connected people. Many sojourners surpass the normal clawing for survival (food, shelter, security), discovering peace still eludes them. In their fears, they continually fight to protect a decrepit self-image, while internally withering from loneliness.
By transcending our individual self—but not ignoring the self—we can weigh accomplishments against the wider perspective of others. Our sense of meaning is realized from much more than personal glory and bank accounts. With maturity we examine feelings within the context of overall events. For narcissists, their individual feeling dominates. Their feelings, their hurt, their joy block the breathtaking view of the ever-widening cosmos of life. Soothing, expanding or escaping the individual feeling, blind to others, selfishly directs action, ignoring the essential bonds of connection to the world.
While we must direct attention to our personal well-being, setting boundaries, correcting violations, and seeking growth, we must do so with empathy. We still respond to our pain, but our responses are examined from a more inclusive context. Sometimes hurt and disappointment are appropriate. The sacrifice benefits a larger whole, by neglecting a personal need, we actually increase our worth, transcending the self and giving to the universe.