End the Struggle Between Selfish and Selfless
You are meant to have an optimal life, one that's happy, successful, abundant and of great contribution. My mission is to help you achieve that.
- Have you ever felt the struggle of developing your talents and being of service to the world?
- Have you ever felt the struggle of combining the spiritual with the material?
- Have you ever felt that following a higher calling imposes a sacrifice of your selfish desires?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. This is the struggle that one of my readers shared with me this week. She wrote:
I do have another, more spiritually based question: as a Christian, I have surrendered my will to Jesus Christ. He is the one sitting on the throne of my heart and with everything I do I wish to obey Him. Some of the things you proclaimed sounded very 'full of self' to me (egoistic if you want- a word you yourself used during the session;). How about you, are you a Christian? And, how do you explain being born with personal talents, but also with a deep desire for connection and love and helping other people..? How can you combine all this in a loving way (must say, reading what I just wrote, you combine it all very well in what you do today!) hope you have something on this for me, because I find it quite a struggle.
I’m so very excited and grateful about this question, because it brings up an important universal inner challenges. Thank you, Maartje!
I know that among my readers I have people from all religions and quite some others who don’t believe in Divine. So this blog offers me a stimulating challenge: to offer something valuable to all of you. Exciting!
Instead of giving a religious answers I’ll attempt to give a philosophical one. Do you remember Hegel and his Dialectic? He offered us the following:
- proposing an idea, a thesis,
- listen to its contradiction, the antithesis and
- finally integrate both in one more elevated conclusion, the synthesis
Today we’ll use this art of investigating and investigating truths.
I had the blessing of being raised in a Hegelian way. I was brought up in a syncretic environment, in an amalgamation of different religions, cultures, and schools of thought. At school I received a strong Catholic education and at home I got a compelling Aztec component. I can tell you that both views of the world are not totally compatible. To combine these two seemingly irreconcilable view points allowed me to open myself to reconcile more contradictions to come.
The underlying contradiction behind this question is selflessness and selfishness.
- Selflessness is considered the good thing. We please. We give. We accommodate. We don’t think of ourselves. We think of the others. We surrender to Divine will.
- Selfishness is considered wicked. It’s selfish to develop our talents. It’s selfish to desire wealth. It’s selfish to desire happiness. It’s selfish to love ourselves.
What if we applied Dialectic thinking to this apparent contradiction? What if we could syntheses these two opposites?
Guess what! It is already done. This is called the Golden Rule or Law of Reciprocity or Jesus’ most important commandment. Possibly the earliest affirmation of reciprocity comes from Ancient Egypt around 2000 BC. It has also appeared in Maoism, Taoism, Confucianism, the Sanskrit tradition, the Tamil tradition and the list goes one. This rule is stated in different ways,
- One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
- Love your neighbor as you love yourself
- One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
- What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.
This allows us to see that selflessness and selfishness are in fact not as far apart as we think they are. They are two sides of the same coin. They are in fact a mirror of each other. They both express part of you and part of your neighbor. To be able to love oneself, selfishness, is the basis of compassionate service, selflessness. No wonder that doing good for others feels great and taking care of ourselves too.
Imbalance is what we need to avoid. Being completely selfish leaves you unfulfilled, with an empty heart. Being completely selfless leaves you drained. You end up without energy, money or time. No extreme is good.
We tend to end in the extremes because the bright side of selflessness and the shadow side of selfishness are overemphasized. Let’s revisit the neglected sides.
What is the shadow side of selflessness?
When we overemphasize selflessness we become the “good girl”, the “good boy”. We comply. We accommodate. We become everything to everyone except ourselves. Why do we do that? For very selfish reasons. We want to belong. We want to be loved. We want to be seen and judged as a good person. There is no selfless act without a selfish component.
Moreover when we emphasize selflessness, we lose our inner compass. We don’t know what we want. We don’t know where to go. We forget who we are. I remember how I felt the first time I went to the supermarket after a long intimate relationship where I overemphasized selflessness. I didn’t know what I like to eat. I always bought for him.
This is something that tends to happen to you, because it did help you in the past. Being accommodating and flexible allows you to grow everywhere: in academia, in the corporate world and in the private arena. It gave you academic achievements, promotions and relationships. However, now it’s giving you a long confusing and contradictory to-do list. It’s giving you overwhelm and stress.
What is the bright side of selfishness?
Selfishness is to think for oneself. Isn’t that free will? Isn’t that the ability to act in our own discretion? Isn’t that one of our Divine gifts? What is wrong is using it?
Selfishness is self-care and self-appreciation. This is plainly sensible. Feeling loved and cherished, especially if that comes from the inside, will allow you to give more to others.
Selfishness is charitable. Think about what the world would be if Beethoven would have thought that creating music was not a good idea because that was selfish. Imagine if Van Gogh would have thought that painting was not a good idea because that was selfish. Imagine the world without the research of Leonardo Da Vinci, or the Sixteen Chapel. Following your bliss always leads to your greatest contribution.
How to find the Golden ground?
To have a great contribution to the word we need to embody the Golden Rule. We need to love the others as much as we love ourselves. We need to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others, while be as kind to others as we are to ourselves. This will result into a life that is both fulfilling and sustainable.
The answer is love. When you are confronted to practical choices that contradict your selfishness and your selflessness, ask yourself:
What would love say?
Think for example that you are invited to a networking event.
- You don’t want to go because you are afraid of networking. Who is speaking there? Fear is speaking. That’s not the right advisor.
- You don’t want to go because you’ve worked very hard all week and you need to rest. You want to have a good dinner, take a bath and go early to bed. That’s love speaking. That’s the right advisor.
- You must go to the networking event. If you don’t go, you won’t generate business. Lack is speaking. That’s not the right advisor.
- You want to go. The event will be full with people who could benefit from your unique gift. Love is speaking. That’s the right advisor.
Try this for when you are offered a new job, an assignment overseas, or to go out for dinner. Try this when you are about to decide to open your business, have a child or write your next book.
Don’t think if you are being selfish or selfless. The solution to this conundrum is love. Ask: What would love say? Listen, trust and act.
Do you want to do something magnificent with your one and precious life?
Now, I would love to hear from you.
I would love to hear your wisdom.
How are you going to apply this today? Inspire us!
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