Many people distinguish selfish people as those who take and selfless people as those who give. Generally speaking, “selfless” gets a warmer welcome and is more widely accepted as “good”, however I challenge both generalizations. Neither selfishness nor selflessness is good or bad. In fact, the two concepts are intricately linked.
Here’s my take on it: You can be both selfish and/or selfless; we all are. We may be selfish in some areas, yet completely selfless in other areas.
Let's look at the word: ‘alone’. When you hear the word ‘alone’, do you picture someone sitting in a large room feeling sad and lonely? Perhaps, but what if it doesn't mean that at all? Picture a young mother reading on the beach by herself. Imagine that it is the first hour she has had to herself all day. To her, alone isn't lonely at all, but in fact, peaceful. In other words, we can create a new perspective and meaning for the word ‘alone’.
It works the same way with selfishness. We could describe a selfish person as one who is self-assured, clear about one’s goals, conscious of oneself, speaks up for oneself, and knows what one needs to do to be successful. He or she begins each day with a clear-cut list of what has to be done and how it could be accomplished. In a world like today's, without being selfish and taking care of ourselves, we can’t stand anywhere for ourselves. In a society that deems selflessness as the ultimate form of kindness, we often allow our personal well-being to suffer in order to put others needs before our own, but what we need to realize is that it's necessary to be selfish and take care of ourselves first. How else will we be able to be selfless?
We could also describe a selfish person as someone who disregards the feelings of others. We can be so self-absorbed with our own life and our own plans that we forget to look around and realize how many other people are suffering and could use a little help. We comment hateful things to strangers on social media accounts. We flip off people for driving to slow for our own liking, we get angry at the waiter because we asked for water and he forgot to bring it. We are all guilty of doing something that we aren’t necessarily proud of. We completely forget that we are human and can be selfish in those ways too.
It works the same way with selflessness. Being selfless opens the world to a person. The more giving one becomes, the more one understands people who are different from one's self. The heart and mind become more open, rather than the tunnel vision selfishness can bring. When you’re selfless, you embrace and care for others. If you embrace and care for others, you understand and appreciate yourself. It's a beautiful selfish and selfless cycle of everlasting love.
Think about the pleasant feeling you get from giving a well-received compliment, food to a hungry stomach, or your time to community service. We feel more than just good. We feel human, and one cannot live a human life without acts of selflessness. Being kind, loving, and compassionate makes you who you are and that without a doubt makes you an extraordinary selfless person. However, without the ability to take care of yourself and your own needs before worrying about everyone else’s, you jeopardize the most important person of them all: you.
So, remember the importance of being selfish is equivalent to the importance of being selfless in living a human life. The latter is not possible without the former. Much of our modern world is an existence that forces people to forget that they are human. We often live like parasites, taking all that is necessary from others for our own individual gain. It is when we begin to selfishly love ourselves and selflessly love others that we become in touch with our humanity.