The Virtue of Selfishness
by Becky Rubright, A.P. : April 2010

Selfishness has gotten a bad rap, or at least, some aspects of the larger idea have gotten a bad rap. Selfishness clearly isn’t right when it’s greedy and unaware or unfeeling of others, but sometimes we have to put ourselves first and that’s not wrong. Maybe it’s just a word or definition problem that we get hung up on. I suppose I could call the same idea taking care of yourself - and I’d like to advocate for a whole lot more of it.

We’re so trained from an early age that it’s good and right to take care of others, to put others first. This makes sense from a certain point of view and I’m all for helping your fellow beings when you can but I’d like to back the idea up a step. What if you take care of yourself first? What if everyone does the best job they can of taking care of themselves? If more emphasis was placed on taking care of our own needs in a balanced and conscious way perhaps there would be less need to take care of others.

I don’t mean this in a negative, harsh, or unfeeling sort of way. Obviously, we all need help from time to time and in the case of children, the elderly or disabled, we all have different degrees of need for help. But what about the nurse who cares for our elderly people? She needs to make sure she’s being “appropriately” selfish by not working beyond her body’s tolerance. The benefits that come from making the time to relax and enjoy life with loved ones, spending time outdoors and taking care of her body – both with physical care like eating right and exercising and with nurturing care like massage and energy balancing, should not be undervalued by her or by the people around her, including family and employers.

I see so many men and women in my office who are pulled in too many directions. Overextended and over obligated - at some point I just wonder why. Why take on so many more things than you have time for? Why let feelings of guilt or obligation make decisions and demands on your time? Unless it’s something you personally feel deeply and passionately about doing then why waste any of your time?

Often the answers to those questions have something to do with money – the need for more of it and the endless anxiety it produces regardless of how much of it you have. I’m not saying that those are the only answers and, of course, everyone is different, but it is a dominant theme. The typical idea of selfishness is a straight path to frustration. There are no limits on appetite and the bottomless acquiring of stuff isn’t going to satisfy anyone motivated from a place of greedy selfishness. But with a real embracing of the idea of taking care of yourself you find you don’t need so much. Most of the things we buy we don’t need. If you limit your need for money to a need for the things you genuinely need to live then the drive changes. Quality of life is always an issue and I am simplifying in the extreme, as anyone with children is no doubt thinking, but my real purpose here is just to float ideas. Maybe that makes me selfish, but that’s ok, I needed to say it.

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