I remember talking to a friend of mine a while ago, and we got to talking about a mutual friend who was generally considered to be doing things ‘selflessly’. As I accidentally blurted out my thoughts about said person (I usually tend to stay away from such controversial topics, such as talking about people without their presence as well as knowledge), I made quite a strong statement: I declared, “No one who wants something from life can be completely selfless. If they seem selfless, they’re either
a) extremely cunning, and thus good at maintaining the façade,
b) extremely stupid, or
c) simply naïve.”
Now, I don’t know if my friend took it the way I meant it, but I surely did not mean that it made you a bad person to be selfish. I think it’s perfectly fine to be so. In fact, I think it’s good to an extent. It would simply mean you’re looking out for yourself, because who else will? Who else is alongside you, going through everything you go through – the good AND the bad – feeling it with an identical intensity as you do, and recover in the same phases as you do? That’s right, it’s you. I could even go on further as to say it’s fine to be selfish as long as you don’t break one of the basic tenets of moral humane living – do no harm, but take no shit.
But my friend did not think so. While they admitted they weren’t the very epitome of selflessness themselves, they believed in the ability of another person to be so. I admitted that people, owing to different life and cognitive experiences, would definitely differ on this subject and what’s good for me might not work for someone else. However, the word ‘selfish’ is like one of those words that spark an instant negative reaction from people – we usually use this to point out a flaw, rather than a strength. No one would call an independent or ambitious person ‘selfish’ and not be almost instantly taken as an insult, and nothing less. I would even say that I don’t think selfless people exist. Or even selfish, for that matter. I believe there are only selfish and selfless acts. And our lives are depend on the mix of these two, coupled with the complications of intentions, methods and consequences of those acts.
So can people truly be selfless without having underlying intentions? Or selfish, without reason?