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Altruistic or Selfish?

How to solve the conflict?


If we use words that are ambiguous (while not recognizing that they are so) and therefore we experience mismatches when in conversation with others, then this ambiguity will create problems and conflicts, which would otherwise not occur. And, at the same time, we will not recognize that the conflict has been created by the ambiguity. We may even think that the other person is either stupid or ill-intentioned, since it seems that they are so obviously wrong and they don't see it.

The words "altruistic" and "selfish" are two such words, fraught with ambiguity. If both conversation partners are using the following definitions of these two words, then the behaviors motivated by either sentiment are more likely to be seen as symbiotic rather than antagonistic.

Altruistic: concern for others and the welfare of others.

Selfish: concern for oneself and taking care of oneself.

Given these definitions, along with a general win-win approach to relationships, we will most often be able find ways so that altruism and selfishness are mutually supportive and symbiotic.

In contrast, consider how conflicts in our understandings or behaviors can easily arise if our (often implicit) definitions of altruistic and selfish are any of the following:


  • willing to sacrifice yourself for others

  • putting another's interests above your own

  • showing selfless concern for the well-being of others

  • considering only short-term benefits for others, while discounting or damaging their long-term benefits as part of the equation


  • sacrificing others for your benefit

  • lacking consideration for others

  • possessing more than others and not being willing to give or share with them

  • only thinking of short-term self benefits, but not including your long-term self benefits as part of the equation

These definitions will, by their inherent premises, make it difficult for people to not be at war, both within themselves and with others. They will not be looking for ways for altruism and selfishness to be mutually supportive, because their definitions are antagonist to creating win-win relationships and a win-win society.

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