Are we really that selfish? Self interest vs. Egoism

Among other equally important issues that evoke a relationship between the Other and the self, I choose first to concentrate on self interest. It is true that over the years these words have gained a strong negative connotation. It is usually considered to be an egocentric act of profit, and it always comes at the cost of other people’s welfare. Well, this is true, and usually you will not see self-interest treated in a self-help book, or if you do see it, it is usually discussed as a destructive aspect that, in order to find true happiness, must be avoided at any cost. To that I can only reply: hypocrisy. If the child of some guru needs a liver transplant and there is another child on the waiting list, how noble the actions of the great master will be in a situation in which he will have to choose?

In practice (as opposed to theoretical nobility), the preference is obvious. It will be hard to find a woman who will tell her father that because she cared so much about starvation in Somalia, now she cannot afford his heart surgery. Self-interest is one of the many gifts of nature; it is what distinguishes us from machines with no emotions or care (for good as well as for bad). Obviously, like anything on this planet, a person can decide to make a bad use of it, or to carry out selfish actions using it as an excuse, but you have to recognize its existence and not to try to hide it from others and from yourself. First, they are certainly doing the same, and second, it will drive you further from being one with yourself. That being said, we should be more attuned to our surroundings and help everyone wherever and whenever we can.

Moreover, by saying self-interest, it does not imply egoism and cannot be compared to it. Unfortunately, some self-help books and religious discourses confuse the two and use both without distinction, ending up speaking about the malevolence of self-interest. The principal difference is in the action of the person. Self-interest can certainly be a positive, progressive action that not only benefits the self but also its surroundings.

World’s self interest

With egoism, though, the situation is different; where self-interest includes the surroundings as well as yourself, ego (“I” in Latin), is the I that is motivating the action. For example, if you would rather help a family member than a stranger, this is self-interest, but with egoism, family members are at the same category with strangers: they are not you. Also, in the stock market, it is in your own best interest if other investors feel optimistic and make a profit—that way, the stock market will rise and as a consequence you can make more profit as well. Egoism says that if you want to profit, others must loose. Concentration on the ego, the I, is concentrating on the individual All; this can never function because reality and life is not only that. Belittling or disregarding the universal All is to negate nature, and it will eventually draw you away from happiness. Self-interest recognizes that aspect, and if you use it properly, you can harmonize its interconnectivity with the universal All and achieve greater results both for you and for your environment.

Hence, I try not to forget, at times, if an egotistical urge rises in my belly, I go ahead and do it, but I don´t forget to balance it later (or while) with some good, old fashion common good. That way, I see how in an instant it transforms itself into some self interest sharing.


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