Undoing shoulds: Being selfish
Selfish = concern for one's self-interest or self-benefit
Even within the context of AskDwightHow, I have to be careful in using the word "selfish" or I will be misunderstood. This condition exists because of the deep lack on Oneself-Others integrity that pervades all cultures of the world, where we have lionized putting others before ourselves as the right thing to do. Review Why do the Oneself-Others Wars Continue to understand why we have a dearth of words we might possibly use to indicate the value and importance of taking care of ourselves (even though that's our #1 job in life). In contrast, a thousand of other words are easily available to indicate that we must prioritize the interests of others above our own.
Taking care of others/looking good to others gets 1000 points;
taking care of ourselves gets 1.5 points (guess who wins?)
Going by the number of words we can find that lionize taking care of others in contrast to the number of words that indicate it's good or okay to take care of yourself, it's about 1000 to 1.5. I have found only three English words on the taking-care-of-yourself side: self-interest, self-benefit, and self-care. Only the last word "self-care" has a positive feeling. The words self-interest and self-benefit, for most people, are rather neutral, maybe a bit positive. But I've still found some people who feel these are a bit on the negative side. My assistant Heidi Yang tells me it's as difficult to find any taking-care-of-yourself laudative words in the Chinese language.
Concern for one’s self-interest and self-care
“Selfishness: devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.”
-Ambrose Bierce from The Devil’s Dictionary
We only call others selfish when it occurs that their selfishness is interfering with our own selfishness.
There’s one question that almost always reveals to anyone the self-contradictory and lose-win nature of the ethics of altruism (the Old Ethics; see just below): “Would you personally want another (especially someone you care about) to do something for you where they could not see a way to do that so they were still taking care of themselves and they could be happy about doing that for you?” To date, I have not found anyone who said “yes” to this question. Paradoxically, we often find ourselves being willing to sacrifice ourselves for others, thinking that they expect it of us...so we can be a “good guy” or won’t be blamed as a “bad guy.”
Not distinguishing short-term vs. long-term self-interest (both needed for full selfishness)
In all the books I've read and all the reasoned arguments I've listened to that argue against selfishness, I found that all arguments are only against short-term selfishness. And they can only make that argument because they are able to demonstrate how it often interferes with long-term selfishness. They cannot villainize short-term selfishness (self-interests) without appealing to one's long-term selfishness (self-interests), which means they are arguing either for full selfishness or that one should sacrifice one's short-term selfishness in order to serve their long-term selfishness.
To take it to the extreme, many religions argue that you should sacrifice yourself in this life (sacrificing your short-term selfishness) in order to cash-in on that long-term selfishness of either avoiding eternal hell and/or basking in unending bliss after you die.
Such arguments against (short-term) selfishness are essentially saying that if you don't handle Now-Next integrity first, it can be impossible to handle Oneself-Others integrity.
I challenge you...
I challenge you or anyone else to show me a case in which someone prioritized their own self-interests and were also deeply grounded in their own Now-Next integrity yet, at the same time, they were damaging others.
In contrast, I can count endlessly all the people who prioritized taking care of others and thereby caused immense damage to others (either the ones they were trying to help or some other person or group of people).
The Old Ethics
The foundation of the Old Ethics relies heavily on floating abstractions sourced primarily from religious doctrine and cultural norms. Broadly generalized, it pits us against ourselves. It most often lionizes taking care of the future and taking care of others, while villainizing taking care of now and oneself.
The New Ethics
The foundation of the New Ethics relies on recognizing and accepting the fact that all human desires and intentions (if you look deeply enough) are positive. It starts from the premise that any ethics, any ethics or system that provides guidelines for human behavior, needs to be designed to serve the happiness (the ultimate goal of every intention) of anyone who follows that system. The New Ethics is based upon building and maintaining two integrities: Now-Next integrity (see the NNI toolkit) and Oneself-Others integrity (see the OOI toolkit). These integrities are based in concretized values designed to maximize the benefits and possibilities both for oneself and for others, both short- and long-term—while minimizing the costs and risks.