Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Be selfish

It’s been almost a month since I wrote anything here. I won’t force myself to write, neither here nor in my creative writing. One of the things I am trying to do is to live life more freely, without that sense of obligation that others would impose upon me, and which I have long since imposed upon myself.

It’s all part of the process of accepting who I am. If I’m successful at this, others are going to have to accept that too... or not, as they choose. If I decide not to be who I actually am because of that non-acceptance, then I will have failed myself.

Is this selfish? Possibly. I am, in fact, quite a selfish person. It may be a kind of self-justification to claim that all of us are ultimately selfish, but I claim it anyway. It’s okay to be selfish. Some animal parents will abandon their young to a predator if protecting them means that they would die too—leaving the young to die in any case. It makes more sense to save yourself and live to breed another day.

Does this mean I wouldn’t dive in front of a bus to save a child, even at great risk to myself? No it doesn’t. In this case it makes ‘sense’ to save a younger member of the species, who probably has far more to contribute at all levels to the future of the species than I do. Not that such thoughts enter into consideration. Such a response is instinctive, not considered. It is not heroic. If I had time to think about it, I might not do it.

By being selfish, by focusing on the things I enjoy doing, rather than those I feel I ‘ought’ to do, I am actually far more productive. The things I enjoy doing are the things I do best. Or the things I do best are the things I enjoy. That chicken-and-egg debate is purely academic.

Of course, sometimes, to be able to do the things I really want to do, and to enjoy the things I want to enjoy, I have to do and endure some things I don’t particularly want to do to prepare the way. I am prepared to sacrifice my immediate happiness or satisfaction in favour of future happiness and satisfaction. This is something children—and politicians—and perhaps ‘society’—find very difficult to do. Our culture of instant gratification has no place for the postponement of gratification. The postponement of gratification is no less selfish, though. It may be more selfish in the end, because the ultimate pay-off is greater and more enduring. Is the alcoholic more selfish who continues drinking for the sake of the immediate pay-off? Or is it the reformed alcoholic, who sacrifices the immediate pay-off in favour of greater and more enduring benefits?

Let me be me. Let me do the things I want and need to do, and I will be both happier and more productive in the world. 


  1. Great debate, Philip. One thing that strikes me is that as I age, I no longer need gratification. This influences how I judge others. Why are they so concerned with things or rewards? At 73, all I need is enough food, reasonable warmth in the cold of winter, and comfortable shelter. A bonus is the companionship of my husband. Because he's ill, that last gift may disappear soon to leave me to my own devices. Then, what will I want? At the moment, I think I'll find fulfillment in writing.

  2. Just what I needed to read right now. I am one of those people who can't do my 'fun' things until all the 'chores' are done. But, at 53, I am finding that my 'chores' really are not that important any more. Thanks for the encouragement!