Most people regard selfishness as a weakness. I would not argue against it. However, selfishness can also prove to be a virtue if used right.
The concept of utility
I will never forget a discussion I was present during my first year at university. At the time, I was in a foreign country, and many of my assumptions came into question. That morning’s university class was one such moment.
We discussed the concept of utility and presented examples of our life utility. One person said that all activities we do are to please ourselves and increase our utility. I was okay with that. But then another person said, “This is also true when it comes to helping others. We help others because it makes us feel nice and increases our utility”. Although logical, initially, I did have some resentment towards the argument.
Do we help others because we want to help genuinely? Or do we help others because that brings us satisfaction and pleasure? Maybe both statements are true, but what is the motive? If we help others out of our compassion, then we are altruistic. If we help others because that makes us feel good, that sounds more selfish than altruistic.
Our innate selfish nature
There is a taboo in society about being selfish. There are many viewpoints on this subject. If we see the matter using just logic, without any emotion on it, it looks as if everyone is selfish. And I explain: You do what you do for your own sake. Even when you help others, you do that because it makes you feel good.
Even if society, parents, or bosses force you to do something unwillingly, you still do that for your benefit. If you do not do it, you may be socially stigmatized, have a fight with a loved one, or even get fired. You want to avoid these outcomes, so you do what you have to do for your own sake.
When it comes to things you want to do willingly, this argument still holds true. You do what you want because YOU (not someone else) want it. Even when you want to help others, you do that out of your own desire. You do what you want because it makes you feel nice. Sometimes, you even expect some benefits to come in the future as a reward (even something as little as “likes” in a Facebook photo).
Using our selfish nature
According to the above perspective, human nature comes hand in hand with selfishness. Take the example of a family. You make a family and work hard to provide the best for your family because that makes you feel good. If you had a family and did not care about them, you would feel bad. Let alone all the social stigma and discrimination. So you decide to make your family more important than your life because that pleases you (and increases your own utility).
To sum up, the argument here is that everything you do is out of your selfishness. That sounds repelling at first. However, if you think of it 100% logically, you would also agree. It may take time, as it did for me, but eventually, you will also agree. The fact that we are selfish in nature does not mean that we need to behave selfishly. Being selfish and selfishly acting are two entirely different things.
There are ways to use that innate selfishness for your well-being. Take, for example, how we feel and how we are every day. We call them inner states because we can have complete control over them. I mean to say that if we want, we can choose to be joyful, sad, happy, or angry. When we have this choice, our selfish nature comes in very handy—being sad or angry is not a pleasant experience. That is why I try to convince myself that I am too selfish to be sad.
- If seen logically, human nature comes hand in hand with selfishness.
- Being selfish and selfishly acting are two entirely different things.
- If you are selfish enough, you will choose to be happy (and find ways to make this happen).