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  • selfish(ness)


    Selfishness is a tough subject. We each have our own personal views of what it entails, but if you sit back for a moment and think about it, there are really two types (ish) of selfishness. You, obviously, have to have concern for yourself to continue living. To be able to survive in a world where, no matter who you're with or where you are, you still are responsible for yourself; your breathing, sleeping, eating, etc. are all things that more or less demand attention from you. Even though this is the case for everyone, yourself is still at the forefront of your mind.

    Now, this isn't a bad thing. This is how life naturally, biologically works. We just don't consciously admit it to ourselves, because being 'selfish' is considered negative. There is also a marked difference in the life of the single person and the life of the coupled/parental person. Your concern for your offspring and the well-being of your mate hit right up there with your concern for yourself. A large part of that is because they affect you and your lifestyle directly.

    I think the transition from single to, well, not, is pretty rough for most people. You can be with the group that depends solely on themselves for everything, most likely born from a long time alone; life forces you to maintain a certain level of selfishness, or you can be with the group that is dependent in one place, to dependent in another place. The levels here are obviously going to be quite different. Within the group of people that are forced to be the leaders of their own life, we've got those that are trying to reconcile themselves to life with another person. When you've had a mindset for so long, it has got to be tough to flip around and change that. Personally, I believe that's what people consider to be 'commitment issues'. I could be wrong, but that seems to fit pretty well to me. You have trouble moving to a different pattern of thinking. Some have less trouble, some have more trouble, but it happens just the same. Or, it doesn't happen at all, and those are the folks that will more likely stay single their entire lives.

    Being single is absolutely not a bad thing, however. Time alone gives you opportunity, almost forces you to think through the major questions that batter everyone. Life, purpose, religion, love, careers, etc. Once you're tied to a group of people through close, mutual concern, it becomes more difficult to find those opportunities. You just end up not thinking about it; you don't have time, you don't have energy. Those questions are very important to some people, and for others, it rarely, if ever, crosses their minds. That could be another major difference that eventually separates us into independents and dependents. So, essentially, we've covered the type of personal selfishness that is required to basically live your life.

    The other kind of selfishness (though there are likely many layers in-between) is the trait that is most commonly considered 'selfishness'. And that IS negative. Compassion and empathy are two major things that shape us as a person. If we are only concerned for our personal well-being, nothing else has value. There is most certainly a line that we do or don't cross in regard to selfishness. One side is the natural self-concern (which really is basically selfishness, just in a more positive light), and the other is self-concern to a higher degree, one that can and will potentially hurt those around you. We could be stuck anywhere on the entire (very large) spectrum.

    We forget sometimes that we ARE animals. Intelligent, of course (for the most part), but animals nonetheless. Looking at groups of primates has personally always helped me put things into perspective. Imagine a group of monkeys/apes/etc. Their (as our) main goals in life are to find sustenance, to reproduce, and to generally not die. But even through this, feelings play a large part. What do you do with the food you find, the time you have, the protection you can provide? Do you keep it all for yourself, or do you share favors with others to become part of a collective whole of well-being and contentment? Most primates (and other animals, of course) have very distinct personalities, just like you and me. If you sit and observe long enough, you'll see that some will share food, will share care for offspring, will protect the group itself, and then you'll also see those that, because they're selfish, do next to nothing but cause others trouble through their disregard for the others. Why does the group put up with them? Sometimes they don't, but other times it's that pesky compassion thing getting in the way.

    Obviously, there are many other things that factor into this, especially for humans; life situation, mental health, value systems; the list goes on and on, but at its most basic roots there are two kinds of selfishness: the one that helps and the one that hurts.

    [photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wiegenlied/2360825022/]