As a kid I remember feeling incredibly impatient at a friend’s birthday party. There were many of us sat around a large table and I was almost raging at the lack of chocolate fingers. Well, to be brutally honest, I had eaten most of them, but that wasn’t the point. I wanted more.
My thoughts were interrupted by the excited chatter to my right. Yes! One of the delightful parents held a tray of goodies that included…
She barely had time to set them down on the table before I impulsively reached out and grabbed every single finger. Impressed with my own speed and cunning, I started devouring the contents of my plate. It may not have been my birthday, but I was the happiest kid in the room.
That was until I heard the collective frustration of several squeaky voices.
I wasn’t the only one who wanted a chocolate finger. Darn it.
My insincere offer to put the remainder back on the tray was met with disdain. Who would want to eat them after I had put my grubby mitts everywhere? So I was allowed to keep them.
I ate them all… but I was no longer having fun.
The guilt I felt following that greedy moment has never left me. To this day I automatically refuse an offer of a hot drink or food when round someone’s house.
Who says kids aren’t impressionable?
There are many ways in which we can define selfishness. Refusing to share with others is perhaps the most common scenario. Another way is to continually receive help, advice and support without offering anything in return – a form of emotional thievery if you will. A third, but far less common form of selfishness is to hold the belief that our own needs are more important than the needs of others.
Of course, altruism is the complete opposite and is usually defined as an act of kindness or giving without seeking anything in return.
I’m not here to denounce altruism as I believe it to be a worthwhile endeavour, both for ourselves and to others. But, I also believe that altruism and selfishness are not mutually exclusive and that they can co-exist together.
It’s in our nature to be selfish. Yet it is seen as a dirty word – driven out of us as children by a scornful parent or teacher when we refuse to share our toys (or chocolate fingers) with the rest of the group.
Kids don’t think. They simply are. It’s a natural instinct.
When someone asks us for a sip of our drink, our first instinct is to scream out, ‘hell no, I don’t want your rabid saliva anywhere near it, thanks’. Yet we reluctantly hand it over – plotting ways in which we can wipe the bottle neck afterwards without anyone noticing.
Because, for some reason that is seen as weird behaviour…
It is therefore logical to exhibit both behaviours as and when they are needed.
If your friend forgot their wallet then you should offer to pay for their lunch or let them share some of yours. This is a no-brainer. If you’re debating this, then you’re clearly a mean old bastard!
However, if this same friend is vying for the same girl as you – it is within your rights to act with selfishness. You can’t logically stand back and watch them get together, as this would be rather upsetting.
Your friend is thinking the same thing – but what if you both went for her 100%. Let the chips fall where they may and let the best man win.
Now we have what’s called ‘prisoners dilemma’.
You’re playing all the different outcomes in your mind, trying to fathom the best course of action.
- If you and your friend both go for the girl, you’ll both date her for short time but eventually she will discover you are friends and break up with both of you. Better than nothing, but not ideal.
- If you both choose to walk away – obviously neither of you gets the girl, and thus nothing has really changed. You both miss out, but at least you’re in the same situation.
- If you go for the girl but your friend decides to walk away – you will win her heart but your friend will be upset and resentful.
- If you decide to walk away and discover your friend kept pursuing her – he will be happy and you’ll be the lonely third wheel.
As you can see, actions have consequences and any decision we make will almost certainly influence the lives of those around us. Yet, if we calculated the pros and cons of every potential decision it would drive us crazy. There must be an easier option…
Looking after number one
What would happen if we ignored the concept of selfishness and altruism completely and instead focused on the correct option in any given situation?
We give when we give, and we take when we take. There is no right or wrong, there is simply instinct and integrity.
How would you feel if you could live your life by your own terms for a change?
Here are 4 reasons why looking after number one should be the default option for each of us;
1. If you can’t take care of yourself, how the hell can you take care of others?
photo credit: rachel_titiriga
Sarah’s heart sank with the crushing weight of inevitability. The seemingly innocuous sound of an incoming message rendered her breathless, frozen in time, a slave to the information contained within. Several seconds passed, she finally drew a long and considered lungful of air whilst she steadied herself in preparation for more bad news.
“I’m sorry darling – I have to stay late again. The overtime is too good to turn down right now, and besides, the money is great! Xxx”
A solitary tear rolls down her cheek as she laid the phone on the dinner table.
“Mummy, what’s wrong… is Daddy not coming home again?”
Sarah glances at her two children. It’s been three days since they last saw their father and she begins to fear for her family. Part of the reason she was attracted to Joe in the first place was his driving ambition. However, the house, the car and the private schooling cannot compensate for a missing parent. ‘He’s too stubborn’ she thinks to herself, ‘he thinks he’s doing us a favour but he needs to realise the damage he is causing’.
“It’s ok, it’s not your fault; he’s doing this for us. Now please eat your dinner.”
It’s impossible to provide for your family if you don’t have the income to do so. Therefore, the option for many people is to increase their hours at work. More income = better parenting right?
If only it were that simple.
In this scenario, Joe believed that by sacrificing his own personal time he was taking care of his family, but he forgot to consider one small detail.
Unbeknownst to him, he was tearing his family apart with a form of emotional masochism. People do this all the time, and not just with money.
Have you ever noticed how insecure and jealous individuals find it hard to settle into a long term relationship? They seek validation from an outside source as a means to fill the gaping void in their own lives. This can only ever be temporary. Negative emotions will surface and derail their futile attempts at finding true happiness. This is simply confirmation bias – the idea that people will focus on situations that confirm their pre-existing beliefs.
What do the following people have in common?
The out of shape personal trainer – the alcoholic mother of three – the dad who works 80 hours a week to provide for the family he rarely spends time with – the jealous boyfriend who smothers his girlfriend with too much affection…
The answer; by ignoring their own needs, each of these individuals is trying to achieve their goal with one hand tied behind their back.
Therefore, to be in the perfect position to help others you must first be able to look after yourself.
2. To be a winner you have to be ruthless
Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t give a shit about hurting anyone’s feelings. To the untrained eye, he came across as childish and arrogant – playground bullying at its worst. But if you scratched away at the surface you would soon see that beneath his charming exterior laid a ruthless and cunning beast.
After selecting his prey, he would pursue a relentless and highly calculated assault on their greatest weaknesses – often with the aim of obliterating their self-confidence and destroying any lingering chance of success.
This kind of persistence hunting is still used to great effect by various hunter-gatherers in the central Kalahari Desert. They chase down isolated kudu under the scorching heat of the midday sun, until eventually, the stricken animal collapses through extreme physical and mental exhaustion.
Only then will the hunter use his spear to finish off the job. Arnie, in comparison, will verbally wear down his rival before handing over the metaphorical noose. He didn’t need to get his hands dirty, so to speak – he just gave them the tools required to crack under the immense pressure of testosterone fuelled competition.
This famous scene in Pumping Iron, whilst hammed up and exaggerated for the cameras, demonstrated perfectly how he would play simple mind games with Lou Ferrigno – a man prone to bouts of massive insecurity and self-doubt. Arnie knew this, of course he did, and what better way to work his magic than under the clever disguise of reality television.
They were great friends, but while relationships come and go, victory is eternal.
3. Most people are not your responsibility
As harsh as this may sound, the vast majority of the human beings that you interact with on a daily basis are not your responsibility. This is not to say that you shouldn’t care about your friends, family and that weird dude at work. You should, obviously, unless you’re a psychopath.
But the truth is that most of us spend far too much time worrying about the thoughts and feelings of people who are more than capable of taking care of their own lives – and yes, this does extend to your loved ones.
Have you ever stuck around in a relationship for several months (or years) beyond its sell by date purely because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?
I’m sorry, but you’re not that important. In the grand scheme of things, you’re merely a planet in a galaxy of stars. Sure you might upset them, make them cry, hurt their feelings – this is because people aren’t robots. You may think you have a huge say in how this person lives their life, but once you end the relationship – they will move on – they always do.
But from that moment onwards… they are not your responsibility.
Your integrity and self-respect is more important than the temporary sadness of others.
Sometimes you have to go ahead and follow your instincts, regardless of the effect it may have on everyone else.
4. You are the hero of your own story
This is your own personal matrix. You are Truman Burbank. This world is set up directly for you.
Why would you hand over the creative reigns to the supporting characters in your story? Why do you trust other people with your life? As that timer counts down to zero, why are you stood there, ball in hand, hoping for someone to take control of the situation?
The pages are turning but are your words coming to life?
Take the shot.
There are only two logical outcomes here. Either the entire world is set up especially for you, in which case you’re the only person that truly exists or we’re all a collection of individuals, each with our own hopes, fears and dreams.
Either way – what has your shit got to do with anyone else?
If you want to shave your head – who cares?
If you want to openly date people of the same sex – who cares?
If you want to quit your job and travel the world – who cares?
The greatest con in the history of mankind is the self-imposed belief that we need to seek the approval of others to follow our own path.
The question you should ask yourself is; what do I want to do today?