Why We Should Dare to Be More Selfish – Free Ebook

From a young age, we are taught that one of
the greatest risks to our integrity and flourishing

is our own selfishness. We must – wherever
possible – learn to think more of other people,

keep in mind how often we fail to see things
from their point of view, and be aware of

the small and large ways in which we disadvantage
and ignore collective interests. Being good

means, at its most basic, putting other people
more squarely at the center of our lives.

But for some of us, the problem isn’t so
much that we are heedless to this advice,

rather that we take it far too closely and
remorselessly to heart. So mindful are we

of the risks of selfishness, we run into an
opposite danger: an abnegation of the self,

a modesty that borders on self-erasure, an
automatic impulse to give everything over

to competing parties, a shyness about pressing
oneself forward and a manic inability to say

‘no’ or cause the slightest frustration
to others.

And so, as a result of our talents at ‘selflessness’,
we fill our diaries with obligations to people

who bore and drain us, we stick at jobs that
neglect our true talents and we stay for far

too long in relationships with people who
deceive us, annoy us and subtly (and possibly

with a lot of sentimental sweetness) take
us for a very long ride. And then one morning

we wake up and find that the bulk of our life
is already behind us, that our best years

are spent and that no one is especially grateful
for our sacrifices, that there isn’t a reward

in heaven for our renunciations and that we
are furious with ourselves for mistaking meekness

and self-surrender for kindness.

The priority may then be to rediscover our
latent reserves of selfishness. The very word

may be frightening, because we aren’t taught
to distinguish – as we must – between bad

and good versions of this trait; between,
on the one hand, the kind of selfishness that

viciously exploits and reduces others, that
operates with no higher end in view, that

disregards people out of meanness and negligence,
and on the other, the kind of selfishness

that we require to get anything substantial
done, that lends us the courage to prioritise

our own concerns over the flotsam and jetsam
of daily life, that lends us the spirit to

be more forthright about our interests with
people who claim to love us – and that at

moments leads us to sidestep nagging demands
not in order to make people suffer, but so

that we can husband our resources and in time,
be able to serve the world in the best way

we can.

With a more fruitfully selfish philosophy
in mind, we might fight to have an hour to

ourselves each day. We may do something that
could get us labelled as ‘self-indulgent’

(having psychotherapy three times a week or
writing a book), but that is vital to our

spirit. We might go on a trip on our own,
because so much has happened that we need

to process in silence. We cannot be good to
anyone else until we have serviced some of

our own inner callings. A lack of selfishness
may be the fastest route to turning us into

ineffective, embittered and ultimately highly
disagreeable people.

Hindu philosophy can be a useful guide here,
for it divides up our lives into four stages,

each with its distinctive roles and responsibilities.
The first is that of the bachelor student

(known as Brahmacharya), the second that of
the householder and parent (Grihastha) and

the third that of the grandparent and semi-retired
advisor (Vanaprastha). But it’s the fourth

that is the really interesting age in this
context: known as Sannyasa, this is the time

when – after years of service to other people,
to business, family and society – we finally

throw off our worldly obligations and focus
instead on the development of our psychological

and spiritual sides. We might sell up our
house, go travelling and wander the world

to learn, talk to strangers, open our eyes
and nourish our minds. In the period of sannyasa,

we live simply (perhaps by a beach or by the
side of a mountain); we eat basic food and

have few belongings, we cut our ties with
everyone who has nothing spirit-related to

tell us, anyone who is on the make and in
too much of a hurry, anyone who doesn’t

spend a substantial amount of their time reflecting
on the meaning of being alive.

What feels insightful about this division
of existence is that it acknowledges that

a Sannyasa way of living can’t be right
for everyone at anytime – yet on the same

score, that no good life can be complete without
a version of it. There are years when we simply

have to keep our heads down and study, years
when we have to bring up children, and accumulate

some capital. But there are also, just as
importantly, years when what we need to do

above all is say ‘enough’, enough to material
and superficial demands, enough to sexual

and romantic entanglements, enough to status
and sociability – and instead, learn to turn

our minds inwards and upwards.

Without having to don the orange robe favoured
by Hindu Sannyasas, with perhaps few visible

signs of our reorientation to speak of, it
is open to all of us to make a psychological

move into a more self-focused and inner age.
We can convey to those around us that we aren’t

lazy, mad, or callous; we just need to avoid
doing the expected things for a while now.

We need to fulfill our real promise by casting
aside an idea that is only ever superficially

wise: always putting other people first.

Our perspective cards feature tools for a wiser calmer perspective on life, they help to restore calm and clarity even during difficult times.