Most of us assume that selfishness is both wrong and unhealthy. But is this true?
Selfishness means acting in one's rational self-interest. Contrary to popular opinion, all healthy individuals are selfish. Choosing to pursue the career of your choice is selfish. Choosing to have children—or not to have children—is selfish. Insisting on freedom and individual rights, rather than living under a dictatorship, is selfish. Indeed, even ordinary behaviors such as breathing, eating and avoiding an oncoming car when crossing the street are selfish acts. Without selfishness, none o f us would survive the day—much less a lifetime.
Selfishness does not mean self-destructive behavior. In other words, a car thief is not selfish. He has to run from the law constantly, something most car owners never have to do. Even if he escapes the law, he will not experience as much pleasure from possessing the car as would an honest person.
Lying to your spouse, or any loved one, is not selfish. The psychological stress of trying to "live the lie" of an extramarital affair—or any major secret—is enormous. A selfish person understands that honesty is the best policy and the least painful, in the long run.
The opposite of selfishness is self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice means giving up a greater value for a lesser value. Consider the example of a battered wife, who is married to an alcoholic husband who refuses to seek help. She stays with him for reasons o f "security" and "family stability." Yet in the process she sacrifices her self-esteem and physical safety (greater values) to the irrational whims of her husband (lesser values).
Consider the example of the hard-working student who allows a frien...
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...ient and doctor benef it from selfishness.
In a rational society, selfishness is encouraged. A rational society is one where individuals are left free to pursue their self-interest. In the process, everyone benefits.
Rational selfishness means acting in your self-interest—and accepting responsibility for determining what truly serves your long-term interest. It is a nice alternative to a life filled with duty, drudgery and disillusionment.
We live in a world which does not even recognize the option of rational selfishness. We are taught, from childhood, that we must be either self-sacrificing or thoughtlessly "selfish."
I maintain that this is a false alternative. Rational selfishness, if practiced consistently, is the means of living both a moral and psychologically healthy life. If you choose to recognize this alternative, such a life can be yours.
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