Guilt and selfishness are linked like railroad boxcars. Our idea of what it is to be “selfish” in front, followed closely and awkwardly by “guilt”, uncomfortably crashing into each other around every turn. So much so, it’s hard to know selfishness without its counterpart. Ive recently been on a particularly winding road with these two- making decisions for my life that others would, and have, deemed “selfish”. Never wanting to hurt anyone but also knowing that I wasn’t happy, and that my unhappiness was hurting those I loved more than the risk it took to find it, to come back to myself.
One expression of guilt is the distance between what you are doing and what you feel you should be doing. It is also the expression of wanting something we feel we are undeserving of having. Either way, guilt wants us to hide. It wants us to defend/ tuck tail and run. The only way to really utilize this emotion, or any for that matter, is to face it head on and look at whatever subject matter it’s hitched to (ie. the idea of “selfishness” or rather my “wants” being at odds with what I think I “should want” or “should be doing”) On my way down one particularly slippery self-deprecating slope, I stopped myself half-way down and asked “What does selfishness really mean?” Not really knowing, I turned Google:
adjective self·ish \ˈsel-fish\
: having or showing concern only for yourself and not for the needs or feelings of other people
I believe we need a new definition. We need to reclaim this word from the collapse of it with “inconsideration” (of which this definition really speaks, thus why it is so easy to attach it to “guilt”), and redefine what it really means to be selfish.
From my non-identification with this definition, I had a revelation- I AM selfish. But not in this way. Instead, in a way that is to act from a place of knowing my true preference and having my actions extend from there. From knowing and honoring my true self in any given moment.
In truth, we are most considerate when we are acting selfishly. One of the greatest gifts we offer one another is to allow each other to choose authentically. If we operate from selfishness rather than doing what we think we should do, we give each other an opportunity to also choose. This said, you have to own and make known your authentic preference to enable others to do the same.
The best option is always a win-win and a win-win is only possible from a space of authentic selfishness on both ends, in this way, everything is a win-win, every time.
I believe it’s much harder to be selfish than to appease or placate. We are taught in our culture from a very young age to be responsible for each other’s feelings/experiences. As kids, we are told. “You hurt him/her!, say you’re sorry! go to timeout,etc” We are taught to be more responsible to the emotions and experiences of others, than ourselves. One of the most challenging and most empowering ways to live, is in full responsibility for your own experience. This includes your emotions, your thoughts and your life, as a whole. When you are responsible for your experience, you have all the power to change it and create anew.
We come into the world as babies and children knowing this and intrinsically living this selfishness, you’ve seen how kids are the centers of their own worlds. However, we are conditioned out of this early on only to come back it in fits-and-spurts throughout our life. Regardless, our authentic selfishness is default. And most, if not all of our struggles in life come from resisting what it is we want with what it is we feel we deserve or what we “should do”.
Authentic selfishness is ultimately selflessness. When we operate from our own true preferences and give up “looking good” or “being right”, we ultimately drop the “self”, the idea of who we are and what we should be doing. By the very nature of this we give others a permission slip to do the same.
The mind will wrestle with this concept, so it’s better to perhaps explore this through feeling. Think of it this way, do you want your husband/wife, friend, anybody doing anything for you you that they really don’t want to be doing? No, you don’t. It doesn’t feel good. Do you want to do anything for anyone else that you really aren’t inspired to do? No. Again, it doesn’t feel good to do. So you have three options: do it anyway (wrong answer), don’t do it (right answer), or find a way to be inspired to do it and then do it out of inspiration, out of inspired action (most “kinetic” answer- this is where we grow).
There is a distinct and powerful difference between action and inspired action. Action lends to more of the same, think cog-in-a-wheel, just enough to keep the same thing already in motion, in motion. Inspired action, moves mountains, parts seas, creates from nothing, something. The greatest inventors and heroes of history were always always always operating from inspired action.
You might be thinking, “what about people of a lower socio-economic status? what about other species? what about the environment?” It’s my belief that these issues and all others will only change by those individuals operating from selfish, inspired action. From a place where they love the feeling it gives them to donate money, or help first-hand, or create a system to support the positive transformation of these current circumstances.
Those who continue to post to Facebook their personal diatribes of the horrors of our humanity towards these or other issues, only promote more of the same. The quote “What you resist, persists” is as relevant as “like attracts like”. Be the model of what you want for the world and do it because it feels good. Do it because you are inspired. This is the only way to make a real, powerful, and lasting difference.
Do everything because you want to. Do everything because it feels good to do, and do nothing that doesn’t. Live courageously from this beautiful selfish nature that we are. What if you weren’t responsible for other people’s experiences? Guilt is perhaps the heaviest feeling we carry and many of us carry it on our shoulders and around our necks like a lead scarf- heavy and suffocating. What if you could drop this? I ask that you try it, just for a day. If you don’t like it, you can always pick it back up and wear it again, but for a day, be you. Be just you in the world, doing you. Do what you want, when you want, with no other reason then because it feels good to do.
Some of you might have kids, as I do. This can be particularly challenging to practice with children, because there is no other relationship,except maybe caring for an elderly parent, that requires you to do for someone before yourself all. the. time. I know this is why I had kids, to practice in the most unselfish way, how to be, completely selfish. This is growth, this is soul stretching.
These relationships with dependents ask us to come into inspired action much of the time, to choose something that initially might be unappealing because the true benefit of our action is what we’re present to. This is the blessing that kids afford. For no one else would we be willing to practice this as diligently as for these little people. If you make breakfast and taxi to school, take to practices, and help with homework from inspired action, your kids will feel it. Because a synonym to inspired action is love and another is presence. When you operate from the heart, from love and presence, it is felt deep and visceral. This is the stuff the best memories are made of.
You being an example of “doing you” as I like to call it, inspires and gives permission for others to do their own lives. Authentic selfishness is really about living your truth and being fully responsible for your own life. We lead and learn by example. Do you. Let others do themselves. Take nothing personally. And forget the rest.