Understanding Selfishness for better Living


By steve Mutua

27 January 2019

Down the ages we have been taught many wrong things, and among them, one is that it is wrong to live for oneself. In fact, man is born to live for himself, but he is taught to live for others, and not for himself. The father should live for his son, and the son, in his turn, should live for his son. This means that neither the father nor the son can really live. They say, “Live for the society, live for the nation, live for humanity, live for God, live for salvation, but please, never commit the mistake of living for yourself.”

This thing has been so incessantly preached that it has sunk deep into our consciousness, and we really believe that it is a sin to live for oneself. But the truth is that if a person has to live, he can only live for himself, and for no one else. And if living for others happens, it is just the consequence of living very deeply for oneself; it is just its fragrance.

No one in the world can live for the other; it is just impossible. A mother does not live for her son; she lives for the joy of being a mother. And if she dies for her son, it is really her own joy. The son is an excuse. If you see a man drowning and you jump into the river to save him, you might say to others that you risked your life to save another man’s life, but it would be a wrong statement on your part. The truth is that you could not bear to see the man dying, which was your own pain. And to rid yourself of this pain you jumped into the river and saved him. You had nothing to do with the other really. Would you have saved him if you had not suffered pain? There were many others on the bank of the river too; they felt no pain and they did not do a thing. Whenever a man saves another man from drowning, he really does so to save himself from pain, because he cannot bear to see him dying. Deep down he is saving himself from pain and sorrow.

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A man serves the poor because he cannot bear to see them suffer. So, he is wrong if he says that he serves the poor. The poverty of another man hecomes his own sorrow and he does something to alleviate it. He just cannot live with this sorrow, and so he serves the poor. Till now no man has lived for another man; each man lives for himself.

But you can live for yourself in two ways. You can live in a way that harms others; you can live by injuring and killing others. And you can live in a way that helps others to live and grow too. But the talk of altruism, of the service of others, is dangerous. When we ask someone to live for others, we really ask him to live a life that is unnatural and unhealthy.

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And remember, when somebody serves others he always does so with a motive. Service is a bait with which he dominates others. Really, he begins with service and ends with lordship. Beware of one who professes to serve you. He is certainly going to ask the price. He will say, “I served you; I sacrificed everything for you.” A mother who tells her child that she sacrificed everything for him is going to cripple the child, even ruin him.

And a father who says so to his son will possess and dominate him all his life. It is just natural. It is natural that he will ask for the price of his services.

But I say that a mother is not a mother who tells her child that she suffered and sacrificed for him. She may have been a nurse, but not a mother. Really, she has not known what motherhood is. Caring for the child is the joy of motherhood; it is its own reward. It has nothing to do with the child. If she had no child, she would have shed tears for the rest of her life; she would have thought her life to be a waste.

It is in the very nature of man, in his innate nature, to live for himself. But this simple and clean truth could not be accepted — we condemned it; we called it selfishness. But selfishness is natural and therefore right; it is not unnatural. It is unnatural only if I live at the cost of others, if I injure others for my sake. So a society should not be so organized that we ask everyone to live for the society, to sacrifice for the society. It should be such as allows every member to live for his sake, and the law or the state should intervene only when one hurts the interests of others.

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We let go of natural and simple truths; we forget them altogether. The truth is that every man can live only for himself. And if we force him to do otherwise, he will turn into a hypocrite. That is why people who take to the service of others, necessarily, unavoidably become hypocrites.

Because while they live for themselves, they have to show that they are living for others. Thus they live a double life; they are one thing inwardly, and quite another outwardly. That is inevitable. The politician claims that he is dying for the nation, when in reality he is dying for his chair, for his position. The chair has become synonymous with the nation. If his chair is lost he would not care a bit for the nation; he would let it go to hell. Similarly the priest proclaims that he is dying for God and religion, when in reality he is dying for his position in the church; he is dying for his ego.

But we are not prepared to accept this simple truth. And that is why hypocrisy enters our life and corrodes it. And because of hypocrisy and its thousand and one tentacles, life moves onto wrong tracks and becomes hellish.

I say to you that to be selfish is to be healthy. There is nothing sinful about it.