Ayn Rand often received the question “Why do you use the word selfishness to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?”
She said “For the reason that makes you afraid of it.” I always liked that answer, but unfortunately it doesn’t do anything about the confusion that pervades selfishness, especially with men and women who have a negative view of it or who have never read her books.
Some objectivists might not like the fact that I will attempt to clear up the bewilderment by distinguishing between rational and irrational selfishness. Many believe the term should stand alone.
Irrationally selfish men and women dedicate their lives to indulging in self-defeating, self-destructive behavior.
The key tenant of the self-destructive individual remains his penchant for constantly sacrificing long term benefits and payoffs for various forms of immediate gratification. Instead of saving money he extravagantly uses credit. He (she) overeats, thinking exercise resides in the dark ages. How about the individual who goes beyond a healthy intake of alcohol and drinks himself into a stupor? These unfortunate souls, the irrationally selfish care only for immediate consumption items that bring them instant feelings of joy and goodness, if that’s what you can call it.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve tried all the above with dismal results, some of it detailed in articles on this blog.
A person who lives in world of illusion believes his problems reside on the outside instead of the inside and that makes him a problem to those who have to associate with him. You don’t want to be around this individual when he or she doesn’t receive a desired good or service. Allowing yourself to become the object of someone’s nasty outbursts is dangerous to your mental, emotional and physical well-being. Irrationally selfish people who use anger as a coping mechanism allow hatred to fester and grow within. They expect future events to be negative because they skew their expectations through a lens of personal bias.
It’s particularly important that you avoid people who engage in self-destructive behavior because it’s obvious he or she has relinquished all self-esteem and self-respect. It’s possible that once an individual falls into the pit of irrational selfishness, he fails to find glory in any of life’s experiences. You unleash the joy of your existence when you become aware of life in all its beauty and ugliness. You probably realize the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we can probably say the same thing about ugliness. Yes, life soars as a marvelous journey you can love and cherish.
The worst part about allowing yourself to be around irrationally selfish people is you could start picking up their traits. That’s a personal transformation you don’t need. Adopting the ways of someone who is a perpetual failure because of their maladaptive behavioral strategies is certainly no sign of success, nor would it appear as a path to providence.
People who are negative and irrationally selfish bring you nothing but pain and sorrow. Having to listen to constant narcissism and deal with their emotional abuse and put-downs slaps your self-worth around. I’m sure you’ve heard accounts of how the abused person descends into an abuser. Abusive situations can be handed down from generation to generation. When it comes to irrationally selfish and emotionally draining people you just need to stay away from them because there is nothing for you to gain. These parasites will cling onto you, keep you down, and suck you dry. If you hang around too long, the real kick in the teeth or groin comes when the irrationally selfish person leaves you, but not before making sure you’ve become a sad hollow shell of the proud man/woman you were.
Whatever you do, don’t suffer under the illusion you can change the irrationally selfish person. You can’t! Conquering life’s illusions requires that you acknowledge reality or it will automatically work against you.
You begin conquering life’s illusions once you learn to break away from mass thinking. Your freedom resides in independent thinking.
Just imagine for a moment living a life of joy and ecstasy. It’s your perfect right to enjoy the pleasures of life. The irrationally selfish person has neither joy nor ecstasy in his life and he greatly diminishes his enjoyment of the wonders life has to offer. He feels no gratitude for the gifts of life. In addition, he attempts get by day after day without trading value for value. You can’t expect much from other people if you don’t have values to offer them. There will be no overcoming hardship for this person. The rationally selfish man or woman, the Integrated Individual eventually becomes a Master of Life.
The rationally selfish individual takes charge of his thoughts, feelings and actions. He knows all effects have causes, and he makes sure he understands cause and effect relationships. He may error in his judgment, as all men do from time to time, but he has acquired the ability to adjust his thinking and take purposive action to achieve goals and desires.
An individual who practices rational selfishness realizes he possesses power. He (she) is an individualist, an Integrated Individual who takes complete responsibility for his thoughts, feelings and actions, confidently accomplishing goals and desires. He eliminates negative feelings of anger, hate, envy and jealousy from his being, allowing him to experience peace of mind.
His actions harmonize with his values and he definitely wouldn’t consider accepting the second-hand values of others. He has complete confidence in the efficacy of his mind and he knows it. Can you imagine an individual of this caliber lamenting the sad fact he doesn’t know where his thoughts and feelings come from or why he acts on them in self-destructive ways?
Here’s what’s nice. Once you accomplish the role of the rationally selfish individual, the Integrated Individual, you capture control of your mind. You excel at reconciling your life to your surroundings. Plain and simple, your effectiveness in dealing with life’s challenges and obstacles increase. It becomes virtually impossible for you to stumble towards mental instability or act out of line with your ethical beliefs.
Let’s conquer another one of life’s illusions. Events in your life don’t just happen willy-nilly. You must understand that your conscious and subconscious thoughts determine your outcome. In other words, your mind creates your life before the results manifest in reality. Right now, you are creating your future and you may be doing it unconsciously. The rationally selfish individual increases his awareness and begins consciously creating his life.
Once you learn to take charge of your thoughts, feelings and actions, you take control of your life and your destiny. During tough times, this becomes extremely critical. When the tides are low, one wrong move could have you beached. Now that’s appears to be a rather helpless situation. The rationally selfish individual acts in a cool, calm manner when faced with adversity, even when the adverse circumstances seem almost too much to handle. He doesn’t join the crowd of people who begin losing their heads, giving into hate, anger, jealousy and envy. An unfocused mob can go mad, plundering and pillaging the community around them. You’ve seen the results in news stories. When it comes down to it, you are able to act as the Integrated Individual acts by taking charge of yourself and the situation.
Meditation and reflection accelerates your ability to gain the necessary skills to handle difficult circumstances. When you control your thoughts, feelings and actions, you take charge of your environment and your destiny.
I would like to point out there’s no such thing as perfection in the sphere of human action. No man or woman practices rational selfishness 100% of the time; so be kind to yourself and avoid the perfectionist mentality.
Some people waver between rational and irrational selfishness. You need to understand that it’s easier to form bad habits than good habits. If you believe you can act as Integrated Individual acts half the time and succeed in your endeavors you’re badly mistaken. You must practice rational selfishness the majority of the time or you will hopelessly stumble back into irrationally selfish behavior. Your goal is to consistently act from rational selfishness.
Let’s say you go around claiming you act from selfishness. Do you really believe you will convince anyone about its virtues? I doubt it. Once you distinguish between rational and irrational selfishness people begin understanding your marvelous philosophy of life.
RA Meyer – Master the Social Maze