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Posts Tagged ‘selfishness

A sick culture mistakes happiness for selfishness, indifference for callousness; a shallow culture mistakes sternness for meanness, profoundness for depression.

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I found there is a type of persons, who would always let others make choices for them. Or, if they know what to choose, they would “design” a complicated scenario to force others to choose for them. The “benefit” of acting like this is that when things don’t go as they expected, they don’t have to be responsible.

i.e., when they no longer love or like someone, instead of saying: “sorry I don’t love you.” or “I am sorry to say that I’ve been feeling very difficult to be your friend.” they would say:” Do you still love me or not?” “Do you still want to be me friend or not?”

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Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we agree that helping others when they are in need is one of most important ways to show kindness, can I propose, that it is impossible for those who are not able to “notice” the situations where others are in need of helps to offer helps, thus it is impossible for them to be kind?

In a couple of my previous posts I mentioned how I lost a few life time friends of mine during my middle age hazard. I also said I moved on, and I did. However, the recent unexpected visiting from one of these friends inevitably brought the issue back to table, and I just have a few more words to say, before I move on once again.


Despite of my tremendous joy to see my old friend, during our brief meetings, the frequently unpleasant remarks made by her about my chronic condition subdued my joy. To put it simple, not only she had no intention to know what exactly happened to me during past years, but also she tirelessly tried to “encourage” me to be “mentally tough” (even though lots of these remarks were made completely out of contexts), as if she had known me as a person who could never handle hard situation. At first I was only confused, later on I realized, despite the fact that we had not been together for over 20 years, she somehow already held a strong belief that my middle age health trouble was “mental”, so in a way I “exaggerated” my hardship. This belief was so strong that it was almost impossible for me to have any rational conversations with her. At the end, I had to think (or deduce) that the reason she held such headstrong belief of me might be also because it’s only way she could be free from feeling guilty for her not offering anything during my adversity, as I was always there when she needed (I also suggested this “idea” in my email to her after she left). This is selfishness, and it happened in my dear friend whom I knew since high school and kept friendship for over 30 years, I felt extremely disappointed.

But the real hard, or “wicked” part of this frustration of mine is this: deep inside me I know she didn’t mean to be so selfish. That’s why I tried so hard again and again, to explain, to save our friendship. Oh how I wish that she was just mean spirited or evil possessed, which could make me to move on by one “clean cut”. The fact is, she is simply incapable of some very simple logic reasoning, and her extremely limited life experience also made it impossible to understand my “story”. So at the end, I was angry, she was stupefied.

I think, most people are only capable of understanding things that they have experienced, or things under their scope of intelligence. That’s why humans are mostly divided by experience and beliefs. However, my experience told me, it is during those times when we face things outside of our experience and beliefs (or knowledge), can we truly tell whether we are open-minded or not.

My middle aged hazard was extremely unusual, it costed me not only health and financial wise, but also friendships, which were extremely important to me back then. I have no regret whatsoever, as I did nothing wrong in my communication among my friends, and I still believe they all are kind persons. However, this unusual experience did provide me an opportunity to learn human nature, to see how such kind persons could do “unkind” things under extraordinary context. This experience also taught me that in most life occasions, there is no clear boundary between good and evil, kindness and selfishness. Relativity, really is what I would consider as a general truth, at this point of my life.

About the question at the beginning of this post, my answer is positive: yes, a true kindness does require some intelligence. Good motives are not enough for this world free from evil. That’s why through history we see only wise people stood sidelines of massive stupidity, even cruel disasters, many of which might not take place had there not been participation of thoughtless majority.

It seems to me, that nowaday many people tend to relate intellectual ability to vice, believe that kindness is something independent from intelligence, but this is really not what my experience tells me. I think we should never underestimate what good intelligence can do, what evil ignorance can commit.

I say “God is just” is another convenient excuse for practice of selfishness, because if God is just, why do we have to help the poor? That’s God’s will!

Another argument for religious people on this subject would be, letting some people to be poor so others can help them is one of God’s lesson, or “design”, in order to let people to learn kindness. Really? How about those helpless, those who died in pain, suffering without cure? And is the lesson of kindness really worth thousands, millions sacrifices of life? Would those who were burned alive agree that their excruciating pain (actually I doubt “excruciating” is enough to describe how they felt) was a means used by God to educate others? If so, I would say this God is either unspeakably cruel, or incredibly dumb. Or both.

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To believe that anyone can help themselves absolutely in any conditions, or in other words, that we all have “absolute freewill”, under which indifference becomes virtue, is nothing else but selfishness in the guise of intellectual idea.

The Virtue of Selfishness
The Virtue of Selfishness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My previous post “Is Suicide A Selfish Act” triggered a deeper question by a facebook friend of mine (Dale Cooper): “Is selfishness always bad?” To answer this question, I think we first can look at the definition of “selfishness”:

By Wikipedia: Selfishness is placing concern with oneself or one’s own interests above the well-being of others.

Dictionary.com: (selfish is) devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.

It seems, according to these definitions, suicide is indeed a “selfish act”. So the real question is: is selfishness always bad? (Since I don’t mean to get into the discussion about fundamental questions of morality, “good” or “bad” in this post simply mean their general use based on common moral standard.)

My answer are both “yes” and “no”. I think we have to put selfishness in context. First of all, if a selfish act did not bring harm to others, I think it is not a bad thing at all. We all have right, and should, to treat ourselves kindly, do our best to live a happy life. Secondly, in case that a selfish act did cause others’ pain, we still need to examine the circumstance: if the act were motivated by greed, by “entertainment”, it is bad, if the act were caused by pain, by suffering, it is not. Of course, there are many more layers between these two conditions, but for me, this differentiation can temporarily serve as “benchmark”.

I think in our daily use of this term – “selfishness”, we usually mean the kind that brings harm to others, and is motivated by negative reasons, such as greed. That’s how this term usually bears a negative “countenance” in most people’s eyes. And because of this general use, we tend to ignore some exceptions, some more subtle layers in between, or some extreme conditions, such as suicide.

So here we go again: relativity. I believe most of time we cannot judge things by look at them alone. Because things do not stand alone, instead, they exist as parts of a whole. As parts, things tangle with each other, so we better look at them in context, in comparison, to see how they relate to other parts. So many time I found people (myself included) easily jump into judgement by certain notions, with simple “black and white” thinking style. Certainly “black and white” is a pattern easy to understand, an formula easy to follow, but unfortunately, reality is so much more complicated than just black and white.

Based on this understanding (relativity), I would even go farther, that not only “selfishness” is not always “bad”, but altruism is not always “good”. However, I better save this topic for some other time.

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English: Suicide Point, Kodaikanal
English: Suicide Point, Kodaikanal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I often heard people say that suicide is a selfish act. I wonder why. I can only agree with this statement if the persons who committed suicide left their underage children behind, but in most other cases, I think it’s not.

A most often mentioned reason for why suicide can be selfish seems to be the fact that people who killed themselves made their loved ones to grief. In other words, they caused others’ pain. But, I would argue, that can we really compare our grief (of losing loved ones) to the suffering those persons who killed themselves suffered? It would be arbitrary to say no, but if there were a few comparisons, there must be very few. I think to shed some tears is not at all the same kind of suffering as those people who killed themselves suffered. So, just because we “suffered” some grief, those who took their own lives became “selfish”, this logic, by my understand, is derived from nothing but a true (maybe unconscious) selfishness.

Suffering is one of greatest subjects (maybe simply the greatest) of human affair. We who never thought of killing ourselves can never know what it feels like for those suicidal people. We never think of killing ourselves, could be because we are stronger, weaker, or, our challenges are less serious. No matter what way, personally, I think we are just luckier than those who took their own lives.

I believe life, especially a conscious life (namely “human”) by default is not a subject of happiness. I believe life is a subject of both happiness and misery, depend on condition, and generally speaking, the latter is greater than former. For this reason, I believe we are all free do handle our own lives, suicide, endure, enjoy, or whatever else.

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