What does it mean to be “selfish”?
I was recently labeled “selfish” by a fellow human, and it prompted my wanting to write about it. Hmmm … I wonder if my wanting to write about it would be considered selfish.
According to the etymology and Oxford dictionary, Selfish = (of a person, action, or motive) “lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure”. And the word is said to be coined by the Presbyterian branch of “Christianity” in the 1630s
Let’s look at these components, shall we?
- Lacking consideration for others. What does it mean to “lack consideration for others”?
- Concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure. Concerned chiefly.
Allow me to illuminate the context. These past few years, I have taken on a complete shift in a way of being and a way of operating in life from having walked into a new way of being. The person that “gifted” me with the word “selfish” is a family member I grew up with.
Some people in my personal history of life don’t like my new operating model. My family member ascribing to me a label called “selfish”, does not like how I am operating.
A distinction to put this into a deeper context perhaps may be found in this paraphrased dialogue:
Person: You are being selfish.
Me: I hear you think I am selfish. What has you think that and say that?
Person: You disappeared and did not tell me or give me a heads up.
Me: “I am curious about what is happening for you”
Person: “It is the decent thing to do and I was worried you might have been injured or dead?”
Me: “What does any of that have anything to do with me?”
Person: “I was worried and feeling upset!”
Me: “What if I wanted to be alone and take a journey?”
Person: “You could have at least told me!”
Me: “Yes, I could have, and I did not. Why do you require me to give you a heads up?”
Person: “So that I would feel assured and know!!!”
Me: “What about what I might have wanted?”
Person: “Fine! Have a nice life!”
That is the general theme of the two exchanges we had on the subject of me vacating an old life and world view for a new world view. I have a view of family that does not sync with a current world view for many people on what “family” means.
And yes, I do understand my family members point of view. I understand that if I was choosing a new path, that “I at least could have told” my family member what I was doing. The question I have is, does my family member also understand my point of view? Why, as my family member supposes, is one point of view “more valid” than another?
In reality, what my family member is “saying” (but not saying) is that they experienced emotions and body sensations that we label as “fear”, “worry”, “anger”, “sadness”, “frustration” … and that it is my “fault” that my family member experienced all those feelings and body sensations and now my family member wants “restitution” and holds me in “judgment” to a way of being that is not congruent with how my family member views the world.
These past few years I have created alone time where I am questioning everything in life. And this included, intentionally not communicating with many people from my “old life” and creating what I am calling “a new conversation” in life.
I find that humans often create a lot of “noise” and “drama” for ourselves and we sometimes attempt to project that drama on to others. This projection sometimes shows up as “insistence” and how we can insist on controlling and seeking security at the expense of ourselves and others. I certainly have operated this way in my past, blind in my projections.
Thusly, my personal “walkabout” sauntering into a land of wonder concerning our humanity and how I want to operate and what I want to create with the remainder of this life gifted to me.
I began asking myself, “who said that because I was born into a familial unit that I had to stay connected?” … “what does ‘family’ mean?” … “what do we mean when we say, ‘family is everything’?”
The larger authenticity at stake here for me is sharing the lack of resonance I feel about people where we shared a mother and father. Me going on a “saunter” is not the issue … it is what I discovered about how I relate to me and the world that is more important.
I have a responsibility of framing a conversation that may sound like this: “I know we share a mother, and I find that we have nothing else that we share. We certainly do not share values, nor what we want for the world, nor a way of operating or being in the world. Therefore, I do not understand why we would be connected.”
That, dear human, may be considered a “bold” conversation and the “truth” of what is occurring. My responsibility is sharing what is true for me AND doing so in a way that offers love and compassion for me and the receiving party of that communication.
A framing I like when thinking of “Life choices” may be found in a perspective I am calling “the water of Life”. This phrase is many things. It is a Brothers Grim “fairy tale”, it is a Spanish fairy tale, it is a book, it is a liquid element in the book and movie “Dune”, and it may be found multiple times in the “Christian” bible.
The “Dune” reference, in particular, speaks to surrendering and “transformation” as does the “Christian” bible. The metaphor used in these sources is one of “Life”. Humans do not survive without water after 3–5 days (ish). Water continually transforms and renews Life.
If you think of Life as water, and “being watered” or “being nourished”, the inquiry I am in is, “How is this person/circumstance/career/work/<insert anything here> nourishing my heart and soul and how am I being of nourishment in return?”. How am I sensing an exchange in “the water of Life” in this connection? Sometimes the answer is … “I am not”.
Every relationship or connection has a third component. There is you, there is me, there is the “relationship entity” itself. This “relationship entity” is the exchange of energy in every relationship and in my experience this energy feeds on “the water of Life”.
In my sauntering and wondering, this wondering on the nature of life has meant intentionally buffering myself from what I experience as “needless drama” that people insist on creating all so some people feel secure, in control, and good about themselves.
Some people you encounter dear human will draw on this “water of Life” without offering you a ladle dipped into this refreshing water. Some people in my past insist I operate from their “world view”. That I “speak” their “conversation”.
The “conversation” I am interested in is the very conversation of Life.
The “conversation of Life” is nourished by “the water of Life”.
It is not a “Phillip” conversation it is not a “family” conversation it is not a “sibling” conversation it is not a “work” conversation … it is a life conversation.
I am literally not the person some people think that I am. Distinction — How they think I am. My “am-ness” has nothing to do with anyone or who they think I am or who they think I should be.
This is not the same as the distinction “being responsible for impact”. When I “leave the space” it has an impact as does “entering the space” has an impact.
When I “left the space” of my “old life” and the people there, it had (has) an impact on people. That does not mean I am required to take action on their feelings, thinking or being. Some people believe that I am responsible for their feelings, thinking and being (body sensations) and believe it is “the decent” thing to do without considering what “decent” means, and from what perspective?
And in their belief that I am responsible for their feelings, I am “selfish”. And in their current belief system (world view) they think that I should have “given them a heads up” on me going on a “walkabout” sauntering into Life.
The current “conversation of the world” some of my “old life” people are in has it be for them that I am “selfish” for taking a “walkabout” and not informing them. Or has it be for them, that I (pulling in the definition of selfish) am “lacking consideration for others” by taking myself on a personal journey and shifting how I want to engage in the world.
Sitting in my own curiosity, and asking “Am I lacking consideration for others” or “chiefly concerned with my own profit or pleasure” by shifting my life and taking a journey “into the wilderness”?
Let’s look, shall we? Taking a “walkabout” has certainly not been all that “pleasurable” and at the same time, it has been “pleasurable” from the point of view of awakening into what wants to occur through me … as life. Taking a “walkabout” certainly has not been “profitable” unless you consider “profit” to include transcending the energy of “financial gain”. In this sense, yes, I do, I had a “profit” called “awakening to my whole being in service to Life.
Not at any time did the person labeling me as “selfish” ask or say … “Hey, what’s going on for you and what are you learning about yourself in relationship to Life?” or “Wow! Cool! I wish I had the courage to go on a ‘walkabout’” or “While my heart longed to understand what you were doing, I trusted you to know what you were doing and I am so happy you are taking on the lens of Life!”.
I understand, in my family members view of Life, this line of curiosity is currently unfathomable.
You too dear human. People are going to think you are something that you are not or think you are not something that you are. Some people are going to believe you are responsible for their feelings, thoughts and body sensations and those people are not going to be curious on your behalf and instead are going to project their personal drama on to you.
Some people will remain in a completely different “life conversation” than you are currently in and the only thing “to do” is to love where they are, who they are, and when they are and continue to speak from the “conversation of life” you are in.
When you remain, when you “brave the wilderness” (thanks Brene’ Brown) taking on a “new conversation of Life”, when you love yourself and Life fully … to some people, you may be considered “selfish” and you quite literally will not make sense to some people as if you were speaking a different language.
And you will be. You will be speaking a different language dear human and the only thing “to do” is to continue in your “proficiency” of learning the “language of Life”.
Some of these people from my “old world” identify with the various distinctions of “Christian” and in my experience, seem to read and hear about “salvation”, “redemption”, and “grace” but have not transcended into the energy or essence of those words. I certainly do not experience the embodiment of those words in some of my people in my “old world”. What I do experience from some people in my past is an insistence that the “Life conversation” called “Christian” is the only “conversation” and that everyone on the planet should conform to that “conversation”.
When we, as humans operate that way, and when we insist that only “one conversation” matters, what happens … OH! The “Holy Wars” … yeah! That! People fighting and calling it “Holy”. I am calling “bullshit” on that. AND I do have a sense of a “one language” … and that “one language” encompasses all languages and all conversations.
Dear human, what people think of you does not matter. “What matters then?”, you ask … Life. Life is all that matters. Guess what, you dear human (me too) get to choose what matters to you for your Life in relationship to ALL of Life. You in relationship to Life. You living Life and being responsible for Life occurring all around you … for Life occurring through you and as you.
This includes holding people responsible for their own feelings, body sensations and thinking. Not taking care of their feelings, body sensations or thinking. All of us are fully capable of (and responsible for) owning our own lives and not projecting on to others to take care of our emotions.
You, dear Human, get to choose if you are in integrity to your Life as you relate to LIFE. Integrity as defined as “the state of being whole and undivided”.
Integrity to Life means Life is about you and You are about Life … we (in western cultures) are trained by our parents and our education systems to separate ourselves from all of Life and objectify Life … to abstract Life. Guess what, there is no separation, we are taught to think (silly head brain) we are separate from Life by creating that separation in Self (oh hey there heart and gut neurons).
And in that separation, we think others and Life are responsible for our emotions, body sensations and thinking.
To the person living a “Life conversation” of “separate”, they do not see the act of “selfishness” in self. They do not see their insistence of control, security or approval as “selfish”. And so not being able to see or be with their own “selfishness”, they project it on to others.
My family member does not see their insistent nature of control in “finding me”, by the very nature of their achieving or manipulating a specific outcome to serve their purpose, as “selfish”. My family member only sees my “selfishness” by me not conforming to their “Life conversation” and cannot see that the very nature of “the conversation of Life” transcends their limited belief, constrained, controlled, and fear-based conversation.
To see our own “selfishness” would require we surrender all of “this life” to “Life” and that, dear human, is “hard” for people to do … until they do. What makes it “hard” is our blindness that our way is not the way but it is a way. One way of looking at “surrender” is to look at how we might define “Integrity to Life”.
Let’s define “Integrity to Life” shall we? Let’s look at what it is not first:
Integrity to Life is NOT:
- Me imposing my world view on to you
- Me seeking to control you
- Me seeking approval from you and insisting you shift your behavior so that I feel better
- Me insisting you conform to my point of view of Life
- Me seeking to feel better (secure) by insisting you operate in a certain way
- Me remaining in my head and never integrating (re-integrating) into my heart and spirit
Hmmm, who in history reminds me of embodying those characteristics … OH! Yeah! Every dictator and tyrant … everywhere. You know … like Hitler.
What is “Integrity to Life” then?
- Allowing your world view (In service to Life)
- Moving from a clenched fist to open palm and allowing you to be (In service to Life)
- Surrendering to Life’s approval of my being (I don’t need your approval or what my head thinks)
- Accepting that Life has created you to be who you are when you are (In service to Life)
- Looking at how Life is, possibly, all the security you need
- Life is living from your whole being … not your head part … all your parts (heart and body too)
So, what would that definition be like implemented in the world … OH! Yeah! Every human being a “Steward” of the planet and all of Life everywhere. OH! wait again, have we ever in the written history (or “known” history) of humans had that? This sense of “stewarding”? … well … if you “believe” the “creation story” … maybe for a moment of time when Adam and Eve understood their responsibility for stewarding all of life … and then the apple thing happened and well … men took over and blamed women … never mind that men “ate the apple” too … because men can’t possibly take responsibility … and then men proceeded to control everything (including women) and abusing their power and … well … did such a “bang-up job” of “running” the planet … NOT. But that is another blog post or entire book dear human, back to this blog post. But I really enjoyed that tirade … it was fun for me … Hmmmmm … I wonder if that would be considered “selfish”.
What does Life ask of humans? … Life asks every human to “steward” her. To “guard” her. To “champion” her. To “promote” her.
Humans have one responsibility on this planet … to “steward” Life. All of Life “depends” on it. Life (the universe, god, the divine, the great spirit, natural order …) called humans into being to serve her and entrusted humans with the very essence of Life for all of Life on this planet and perhaps the universe.
So, yes, to some in the world view they sit in, in the “conversation of Life” they embody … yes, I understand and see, to them, that I am indeed “selfish” in that conversation because I did not (in their world view) manage their feelings, worries, concerns, or had the “courtesy” to let them in on what I was doing. I have no action here other than an acknowledgment that yes, I understand their world view and I allow their thinking as they are being when they are being who they are being.
A person’s world view of you does not define you, dear human.
To others, whom I did let in on what I was doing, ones that own their feelings, worries, and concerns they have a different world view and are in a different “Life conversation”. Some of them have a world view of “wow”, others have a world view of “bold”, still others have a view of “what about those people you ‘left behind’”.
ALL of these views come from what each and every one of us value. Some have a value of “family is everything!!!”, others have a value of “serving life”, others have a value of “adventure”, and still others “life flows through you”.
I accept all those values … for those people. As I accept my family member has a value that he/she embodies.
I value Life. Life transcends all the human constructs, separations, and abstractions humans have about or constraints humans put on Life. Life transcends human abstract distinctions such as “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Taoism” and how humans operate from within those abstractions … until they don’t.
So, what does it mean to “Serve Life”? … And Serve Life “selfishly” at that.
A test for “Serving Life” may be found by asking … “How is what I am doing (communicating) and behaving as serving Life?” (How am I serving Life?)
Let’s put this to the test … Is an action or a behavior Serving Life or NOT Serving Life?
- Was Hitler serving Life? (let’s start big right out of the gate, shall we?)
- When a mother nurses her baby, is she serving Life? Is she performing a disservice to Life?
- When someone wants to control you, are they serving Life?
- Are you serving Life by allowing yourself to be controlled?
- When someone takes a “walkabout” are they serving Life? Are they not serving Life?
- When that someone does not tell you they are on a “walkabout” are they serving Life? Are they disserving Life?
- When someone who is capable of contributing to serving Life insists that you “take care of them” are they or you serving Life?
- When our elders have become frail from serving Life and we “put them in a home” or “discard them to the street” are we serving Life? Is this a disservice to Life?
- When someone waters the Strawberries they planted, are they serving Life? (I think the deer eating the strawberries before that person can eat them definitely think they are serving life … Bambi thanks you)
- When we erect borders around our homes, countries and the planet, are we serving Life?
- Is Trump serving Life? Is any world leader currently serving Life?
- When societies do not take care of the people with “basic” health and well-being is that serving Life?
- When I sneeze on you on the bus and don’t cover my sneeze, am I serving Life? (when that happened to me, I would say No, no that person was not serving Life … it felt gross on the back of my neck … ick, yuck, blech)
- Is allowing “homelessness” serving Life?
- Is making it expensive for people to be educated serving Life? Is making it in-expensive serving Life?
- Is holding an orphaned baby in your arms and feeding her serving Life? Is “orphaning” a baby serving life? Is “orphaning” a capable adult serving Life?
- Is hoarding energy in the form of “money” serving Life?
- Is hoarding any kind of energy serving Life?
- Is “owning” land serving Life? (To the native peoples of nations before the “Europeans” arrived I imagine they would say No, owning land is NOT serving Life)
- Is living in fear serving Life?
- When we insist on extracting all the oil from the earth, are we serving Life?
- When we fear to die, are we serving Life?
- When we eradicate other forms of life including viruses that may “kill” humans, is that serving Life? (what if those viruses were designed by Life to keep the human animal “in check” as some forms of life keep other forms of life “in check”?)
- Is enslaving other people (in word or deed) serving Life?
- Is putting up a Hummingbird feeder serving Life?
- Is seeking your approval for my well-being serving Life?
- When someone insists you conform to their way of being and operating … and you acquiesce are they and you serving Life?
- Is living in harmony with all of Life serving Life?
I am finding that this “test for Serving Life” raises other questions in me. I am finding that the label “selfish” seems to be an interpretation of people living in different “Life conversations” from each other.
What do you think dear human?
I am noticing too that this blog post is over 3000 words right now and is actually now a chapter in the book I am writing. And experience tells me that many humans struggle with “taking time” to read “long” blog posts … and this is because as humans we have created a “relationship with time” that is not real … but that is another blog post/chapter dear human :-)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This post is a sample of my upcoming book “Dear Human: A zany+zen guide to being human”. This is my first post on Medium as I have been primarily using LinkedIn. “Professionally” I transformed a technology career into a passion for coaching humans on life and leadership and writing. You may find all that detail on LinkedIn. This is one of my more “serious” posts. My heart is sad, angry and holds much “longing” for our planet and our humanity. We collectively must transcend into expansive and inclusive “Life conversations” in order to survive. I feel Life approaching a point similar perhaps to the story of “the Flood” in the Hebrew and Christian and other writings. These cataclysmic events appear to be “a path” for Life to slap humanity in the ass to wake up. I am wondering if the next “Flood” is a “revolution of the heart” where people around the planet become “flooded” emotionally and “fed up” with the current human created schemes and revolt against all current implementations of human abstractions called “business” and “government”. How I communicate this playfully is … “Can’t we usher in ‘Star Trek’ already?!?”. In that world, the planet is one … no money, no poverty, no hunger … all living in cooperation with Life and Purpose. I wonder if we will occupy that space/time “in time”… … …