Every day, I am sure, hundreds of people get called selfish wrongly.

This is a very dear subject to my heart, because, in fact, I was many times called selfish, and although I believed it until not too long ago, after hours of looking at the ceiling and wondering how I could be less so, after long debates with my inner self that was telling me she didn’t really understand what being selfish meant any more, I finally got rid of the word as one of my qualifiers (or at least replaced it).

I am not a selfish person, I am no longer one and in fact, I am not sure that word was ever one that could qualify me properly. Now don’t take me for full of myself, let me explain.

Selfish is thinking of your happiness DESPITE others’ own. Selfish is putting yourself first no matter what, always, so you can achieve your goals while stepping over others’ feet (and it might be even more satisfying to do it so). Selfishness is BAD in the eyes of anyone who realises it, and although the Selfish might know it is bad, the Selfish chooses to act the way he or she has decided while causing harm because in the end, he/she is not going to be the one feeling the pain/disappointment/whatever bad they might have caused.

Many people might be called selfish when they might just be inconsiderate for once, when they might want to do something despite others’ offers or when they might choose for themselves when no one else is involved but when others would like to be involved and therefore think they have a say in what that person has chosen for him/herself.

Let’s say you and I are having dinner and you choose to have a pizza with fish on it; I would like to try it but I don’t want to have fish tonight and tell you to have more vegetables on it instead (while having my own pizza with cheese because today I just want cheese on my pizza). You say no, because you want that fish on your pizza. Although I might be erroneously tempted to call you selfish, I am in no right to do so because, all cheesiness apart, it is your life you are living after all, and if you feel like having fish on your pizza tonight, you should have that fish because you want it and it will not have any impact on my life (apart from the fact that I would really have liked to try fish and you could have been the way for me to try it).

It is simple. Even though life examples are not that simple, these are the kind of elements we should take into account before calling anyone selfish instead of, maybe, I don’t know, just, inconsiderate, for example (although it doesn’t really apply to the pizza example).

So, no, I am not selfish because it is not my pleasure to sit on the worker’s freshly painted bench just because I really want to sit on that bench and have no interest in making him happy (or at least not unhappy), nor is it my pleasure to throw my trash on the ground just because the bin is too far for my legs to walk to, and finally I do not enjoy crushing someone else’s success just so I can get to the top myself.

Even after all this time quote

Now take a minute to reflect on the last time you called someone selfish (or were called so or overheard it). Was it really selfishness? Was the action really performed despite someone’s well-being?

OR was it just you thinking of yourself because you are a human being like any other human being on this planet and have your own rights to be, do, act the way you actually want to be, do, act? Was it just you trying to follow your reason, your heart, your goals, your desires – without doing any harm to anyone? Was it just you needing your time alone, your time somewhere, your time somehow, some way?

Just like any other human being, you were being self-full and that’s okay. And what matters then is to keep both feet on the ground when interaction with others is needed, in order not to go over to the selfishness side. Being self-full is important; in fact, it is necessary. How can you know, otherwise, who you are and where you are? And more importantly, how can you interact well with people that surround you? Because yes, the opposite is just as bad: being selfless does not bring you any good either. Being selfless turns you into a suitcase that was put on a train rack or an airport trolley. Being a suitcase on an airport trolley does not take you anywhere apart from where the person driving the trolley wants to take you. And you cannot live your life being a suitcase on that trolley.

Because when the airport trolley gets put back in line with the other airport trolleys, you’ll be in the middle of the airport, unable to walk and unable to choose whether you want fish or cheese or vegetable on your pizza. And you’ll be unhappy, but you want to be happy because everyone wants to be happy.

And don’t call people selfish. It hurts and it is unnecessary negativity. Call them by their other faults so they can actually be constructive negative comments. And if you catch them in their self-fullness moments, just breathe and listen to them, let them be – and allow yourself your moments, too.



About the Author

Ely Bakouche

I'm Ely, pronounced Ellie, or /eli/ if you speak phonetics. I'm the maker behind EB's Notebook, where I explore what life and work can look like for myself and fellow creative entrepreneurs once we remove toxic productivity messages and competition. You will not find "hustle harder" slogans here. Click 'about' to learn more about this space and my 'why' behind it.

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