(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.
When we genuinely love people, we go the extra mile for them. As Billie Holiday sang in Crazy He Calls Me, “The difficult I’ll do right now. The impossible will take a little while.” Loving someone means respecting them, not deliberately hurting them, speaking their love languages – buying them gifts, spending quality time with them, etc. If we can love other people like this, does it not make sense to love ourselves in a similar way?
Loving yourself is a forever romance. How often do we spend quality time with ourselves, in our own company? How often do we buy ourselves gifts? What words of affirmation do we tell ourselves? “Cause the words that come from your mouth, you’re the first to hear. Speak words of beauty and you will be there,” India Arie, Get It Together.
One of the ways to love yourself entails looking out for you. If you do not look out for yourself, who will? From the dictionary definition, selfish people are solely concerned with their own personal profit or pleasure. Is there a line between self-love and selfishness?
We have been socialised to see selfishness as a bad thing the same way we were taught to see the Seven Deadly Sins as vices that will drag us to hell. However, it gets interesting that in the real sense, there is no good or evil. All that matters is context and intent. Context and intent = content. “Context is the space where content takes shape.”
Jane killed Doe. We are appalled at the fact that Jane is a killer. But what if Jane killed Doe in self-defence? Intent and context are necessary in assessing an act. I strongly believe this applies to vices and virtues.
Every virtue could be a vice, and vice versa, pending on context and intent. Envy, for an example, is a vice, a deadly sin. Envy is “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck”. But where does desire come from?
“Envy and greed,” as Anton Lavey put it in The Satanic Bible, “are the motivating forces of ambition – and without ambition, very little of any importance would be accomplished.” At times, seeing the possibilities could motivate us to achieve great things. Envy and greed, like selfishness, are good when used well.
When I think of it, selfishness births self-love. Self-love means making yourself a priority. If you do not put yourself first, who will? Would you rather place another person’s wants above your needs? When you make yourself a priority, you try as best as you can to protect yourself from things that hurt you physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, etc. It means reducing contact with things that hurt you and cause you suffering. When asked about the origin of suffering, samudaya, The Buddha advised that people let go of desire. Are your desires hurting you? Selfishness means that you let them go, lest they snatch your peace of mind. “If it comes, let it come. If it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go.” Of course, there would be challenges, and we must embrace them. However, when they morph into stress, it makes sense to let them go. Challenges make us grow. Stress drains us.
If we can spend quality time with people we love, does it not make sense that we spend quality time with ourselves? One of the synonyms of selfish is “introverted.” To be introverted means that one is inward-looking – not taking interest or taking account of other people or group. It means minding your business. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4: 11 wrote: “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands.” This means we should be inward-looking; ergo, we should be selfish. With solitude, you have a better cognition of yourself. You connect with your “I Am.” This is your subconscious mind, Chi, Ori, or Divine Self – albeit having different names, they are essentially the same thing.
Self-love is necessary. How can you love other people when you have not started with yourself? Self-love makes you respect yourself. It makes you take care of your mental and physical health. You understand yourself better. Because you spend quality time with yourself, you have more time to learn new things. You start speaking positive words into your life. You start taking responsibility for your life, because you would assume other people are preoccupied with their own lives.
In the real sense, selfishness is not a bad thing. The important thing is that we do not harm other people. As the Wiccan Rede goes, “An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.” Speaking words of affirmation to yourself everyday harms no one, aye?
P.S. In Dante’s Inferno, there are Nine Circles of Hell, based on the Deadly Sins. If a person is lustful, they get to stay on the Second Circle. If they are greedy, they are banished to the Fourth Circle. What happens when the said person is greedy and lustful? Do they shift between Circles? What is the truth?
Credit: Cisi Eze