Undoing shoulds: Being selfish

The idea of selfishness

has been more maligned and condemned than any other single type of behavior

Concern for one’s self-interest and self-care


Many often use the word “selfish” to imply disregard for another’s self-interest or caring. This is not included in my definition of selfish or selfishness. Concern for one’s self-interest and self-care in no way implies that you would necessarily disregard the self-interest and feelings of others.


“Selfishness: devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.” -Ambrose Bierce from The Devil’s Dictionary (American short story writer, journalist, poet, and Civil War veteran, 1842-1914)


We only call others selfish when it occurs that their selfishness is interfering with our own selfishness.


There’s one question that can, in almost all cases, reveal 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 that they were still taking care of themselves and they could be happy about doing that for you?” Todate, I have not found anyone who said “yes” to this question. Yet, paradoxically, we often find ourselves being willing to do that for others...so we can be a “good guy” or won’t be blamed as a “bad guy.”


Special note: The Old Ethics has pejoratized almost every word that could be used to indicate taking care of oneself. In my definition of “selfish” above, I know it will be problematic for many to read or hear the word selfish in a non-pejorative way, even though I have defined it as such. Check out this link to get the full sense of how almost all such words have a pejorative connotation. The only word I could find to indicate “selfish in a good way” is “self care.” If I chose to use this word instead of the words selfishness and selfish, then I would say things like, “The best relationships are those in which we find a way for your self-caring and my self-caring to dovetail together.” If I took this approach, some readers might be able to hear and understand these new ideas more easily. What do you think?


Old Ethics cf. New Ethics


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 men and women against themselves. 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.

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