There is a widespread belief which is promoted by the moralities of duty that pursing your self-interest is somehow incompatible with helping others, general benevolence, and good-will among all human beings. Many consider it morally superior to sacrifice yourself for others over helping others while helping yourself. The latter is considered selfish or an inferior way of helping.
There is an implication that pursuing your self-interest means trampling on the interests of others. That looking out for yourself means disregarding the rights and needs of others. That is a zero-sum game that is complete hogwash. I reject those beliefs and quite frankly consider them responsible for a lot of psychological harm. They belong to a less enlightened past and need to be discarded.
One of the best ways you can help others is to to not become a burden on anyone by taking care of yourself. Your health is a simple example. I place high value on keeping myself and my family from becoming a burden on the rest of the population and I consider it a virtue. Going further, I consider it a virtue to live a full, rich, meaningful, and happy life. That is what it means to be human and to do anything less is to violate your nature and I don’t see how that can be considered good.
None of that means that helping others is not a good thing or something you should strive for because it can be one of the most rewarding activities you can undertake. It can be a key factor in living a meaningful life. A wonderful synthesis of both is finding happiness by doing those things that give you pleasure and meaning while at the same time benefiting others. The benefit can be and often is direct, but it doesn’t have to be. I have purchased books that have benefited the authors financially and from which I have found profound insights. Insights that have benefited me immensely. They’ve helped me by helping themselves. My health is a thousand times better than it was a year ago. The vast majority of the information I used to make the transformation was found on the web or in books I found on the web. So thanks to the innumerable people who have contributed to the information age. Many of them have become wealthy in the process.
Research shows that happy people and people who feel good are more likely to help others. It’s not a trade-off between your own interests and the interests of others. Relationships that are mutually beneficial rather than mutually sacrificial are the ones that are likely to thrive. I don’t want to take what someone else has created. I want to benefit and have others benefit from what I create.
Everyone must pick their own path and I’m not telling you what yours might be. I am suggesting however that it is wrong to feel guilty about pursing your own self-interest. The bitter and self-important people who lay a guilt trip on you for being “selfish” for pursuing your own way aren’t helping anyone. They certainly didn’t help you.
What if everyone took care of themselves to the extent possible while acting in a generally kind and helpful way toward every ones else, including the other creatures of the earth? What if we treated ourselves and each other as individuals each with a right and a basic need to pursue our own interests without trampling on one another? What a wonderful world it might be.
What do you think? Leave a comment and join the conversation.
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