[I chose this cover picture because as I was exploring the ancient Candi of Borobudur in Indonesian, I was touched by how beautiful it was and I couldn’t explain it. At the same time, I could hear two people (one from Netherlands and the other from Australia) remark that they only needed 5 minutes not the full 4 hours because its all the same “shit. It just reminds me we all see things differently.]
During and after backpacking around the world last year, I kept thinking about the “self.” I visited some of the most underdeveloped nations on earth. The people were friendly, the land raw and bountiful but economically poor. I began to struggle with the concept of selfishness and selflessness. Here I was traveling the world and here I was seeing kids playing with a coconut in lieu of a soccer ball. I’ve always pride myself in my “unselfish” deeds volunteering my time and money to causes I believed in or have a connection to.
I’d look at myself in the mirror and think I do good. I’m not selfish. I put others needs ahead of mine. But, then I realize I don’t do that for the most part out of true altruism. I get something back in return that makes my life rewarding. It fosters a world where people like me thrive…its self preservation. I want to live in a happy world so I do things that make that happen. Not because I just want the world to be happy but I get happy.
Anyhow, I was watching a Colbert Report segment where Steven interviews Bill Clinton. He says,
“Selfish and Selfless were the same thing.”
This rang true for me. I believe it. It’s what I understood after traveling to so many countries last year and meeting so many different types of people and being placed in unique situations. Clinton said he donates his time to charities because he too feels good. He gets something out of it – press, deductions, euphoria, admiration of others, etc.”
Understanding that motivation helps in knowing that people do not have malicious intent. They do things that has a “self” return.
It all boils down to “self.” It’s self preservation because whether you choose to help someone out of the kindness of your heart – you get something out of it. You feel good. Feeling good feels great and who wouldn’t want to feel great all the time. When it comes to being selfish, we do it because it feels right for us and our situation – that makes us feel good.
Take this for example: A friend stated she was raising money for a good cause and asked a number of friends to help. Most of her friends didn’t want to just donate cash or simply ignored her request. She found strangers who donated and helped her reach her fundraising goal. Her friends however would buy her drinks and dinners amounting for more than the few dollars she was asking for her fundraiser.
This is a prime example of our “self.” She was raising money for a good cause – something she believes in and because of that she donated her time to get the funds for this group. A group she believes would foster the type of environment she thrives in thus helping her self preservation.
Her friends were also doing the things that made them feel good. Donating money to charity didn’t get them the personal satisfaction but hanging out with a beautiful and easy going girl for a drink or a bite was worth the dollar expense. They got something out of it. Maybe it was to stare at her, have a great conversation, or simply so they didn’t have to drink or eat alone. But, they chose what they wanted to do because it was for “self.” She made a remark which I would have said too, “So you’d buy me a drink but you won’t donate a small amount to help little kids?” I uttered back, “There is no self interest with those kids for them.”
The strangers who helped did so not for selfless reasons. But, they did so because her cause matched a cause they believe in that would foster a world where their self-preservation thrives.
I’ve been debating using Kickstarter, crowdfunding platform, to kickstart my startup Phroogal to the next level. It’s a bit selfish of me to use other people’s money to make my dreams come true. But, I just have to look at my own motivations when I donate. I do it because I believe in that idea or person and I feel good – that’s the return I get. I know there are others who do not need financial returns but want the emotional.
I donate to charities of those I know who have a personal connection with that charity. I do it because I feel good knowing a friend feels good. I made them happy and making those I love happy is part of making this world easier for my self preservation.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that I understand that being selfish or selfless aren’t polar opposities and vastly different from one another. Being selfish doesn’t make you evil. Being selfless doesn’t make you an angel. It’s just self preservation and how we go about ensuring our own personal happiness. That could be donating our time and money or simply splurging on worldwide trips, buying fancy cars and eating expensive meals.
When I discovered they were the same it changed the way I look at myself and the world. I realize that I do micro-financing because I feel GREAT helping another entrepreneur in a developing nation. I donate my time because I can tout my “smartness.” I listen to friends because one day I’ll need them to listen to me. Why did I pass the homeless man on the street who was asking for a dollar? It’s because I wanted that dollar to buy myself hot tea at Starbucks.
Understanding this has given me peace. It doesn’t change the way I see individuals who may choose to buy a $3000 TV but state they do not have $20 to give to my nephew’s school fundraiser. It doesn’t make me think someone who spends all their time in soup kitchens is any better than someone who travels the world. I understand it in the simplest form that we all do the things we do because ultimately it makes us feel a certain way. It makes us feel good about ourselves and far be it for me to deny someone their idea of happiness.