The word “selfishness” typically evokes negative reactions and is used to describe an individual who is willing to sacrifice the needs of others in order to meet his own. By definition, selfishness means “concern that is excessively or exclusively with oneself: the seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.”
However, in many instances a selfish act actually has no positive value for the offender other than the instant gratification it provides. The long term effects of selfish actions most often cause detrimental consequences and problems for the offender. How then, can these actions meet the intended definition or criteria of selfishness?
Genuine selfishness cannot be considered a negative act. Genuine selfishness ignores instant gratification in favor of the overall accomplishment of advancing toward life goals. By disciplining oneself to overcome the need for instant gratification and focus instead on that which will be most beneficial to one’s life as a whole, it becomes imperative to always put one’s genuine needs first. Furthermore, this type of selfishness will actually prove beneficial to others rather than create a need for sacrifice or forfeiture on their part, as typical selfishness does.
This concept can be demonstrated in a variety of instances most individuals face in every day life. Consider your last memory of a friend asking and accepting your help with a project, then becoming selfishly unavailable when it was time to return the favor? Certainly he got exactly what he wanted in the short-term, but did he not sabotage himself overall when it comes to what would have benefited him the most? If so, then his selfishness was flawed and his actions were actually contradictory to the genuine definition of the word.
If your friend had been genuinely selfish, he would have focused on his overall desire to be able to count on you for assistance when he needed it. As such, the most selfish thing he could have done would have been to help you when you needed him.
Consider the coworker who teams with you to tackle an important project, then selfishly takes credit for the entire assignment. While she may receive the immediate payoff of sole recognition for the success the two of you accomplished jointly, has she not greatly diminished her options for future opportunities?
If your coworker had been perfectly selfish, she would have realized an opportunity would likely arise when she would benefit from your assistance again in the future. She would have forfeited the immediate gratification of unshared praise in favor of showing her appreciation to you and motivating you to team with her again. How then, do her actions not directly contradict the definition of selfishness?
Perfect selfishness requires a deep commitment to self-exploration and absolute internal honesty. One must define the distinction between instant gratification and that which furthers the realization of long-term goals, objectives and aspirations. Once these differences are identified and incorporated into the process of choosing one’s actions, selfishness transforms from that which harms everyone involved into a way of life that benefits all parties.