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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

UnSelfishness - A myth?

Everytime someone claims that they are very unselfish, I get a chuckle out of it! Grow up people!! The act of unselfishness is not possible. We are just not capable of that sort of a utopian thought.

Since unselfishness & Selflessness are used interchangeably, I will go with that. (Though, less thought of self (selfless) makes more sense that no thought of self (unselfish)). Lets look at some common usages:

"The soliders/commandos selfessly sacrificed their lives for their country."
Hmm. As heart-wretching and tear-jerking that is, is that true? The soliders were so committed to doing their job that they did not hesitate to risk thir lives. That makes them brave, not selfless.

"Gandhiji was the most unselfish person ever."
I admire Gandhiji, and look upto him. But unselfish, no. Gandhiji had some ideals he believed strongly in. He propogated and stood by them. That is not unselfish - that is being steadfast in his beliefs.

"I will even die for you."
Some of us say that, and most of us mean it too. Aren't we selfish when we say that? Doesn't that faith, that love for a person to want to promise such extremes actualy make us happy?

"He is so selfless. He has donated XX money to orphanages/old ages homes!"
Hmph! There are two ways of going about it. You either donate/help out because it makes you happy, or for being guilt-free and fulfilling your social duties. This is the least unselfish act ever.

As a corollary, I admire people who are realistic enough to call themselves selfish.
Every act that we do gets us something - peace, happiness or blessings. Just think twice before you egoistically call yourself selfless.

10 comments:

balaarjunan said...

Good thought. You are right.
May be the term is defined wrongly. We can define it this way,
Selfless Act is an act which involves external service/action/help for others through which we gain inner happiness/satisfaction/peace

Archana said...

Yes! I agree with that!
The current definition and usage is all wrong.
For example, One of my friends told me about her selfless concern for the environment. Praising oneself for being selfless - oxymoron if anything!

antbrain said...

The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value. Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice - which means: self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction - which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

-Ayn Rand

Anupama said...

I quite agree because we do something for others because it makes us feel good. What do you think of the (so-called) unbiased, unconditional mother's love? I think its just basic nature's instinct to protect progeny.

@antbrain Ayn Rand- the high goddess of capitalism makes me gack! I will never subscribe to her views and thoughts. She might have such extreme views because she was bought up in a communist country - Russia. Would be different if she was in a democratic country...

rangarajaniyengar said...

realistic post. very true - i agree.
also need to learn how to put short and sweet posts like u do. i just go and on :-(
when a soldier fights and kills or gets killed, he doesnt have time to think. post event, we can say brave, selfless etc but there is no time to think. if i were a solider and focussed on doing my job well, i need not be selfish or selfless, i can just do my job because i hate the enemies. one can say killing an enemy makes me feel happy but is that selfish or selfless, who cares? hmm ... just trying to play a confused devil's advocate. but good post once again and do write more regularly!

Archana said...

Ayn Rand - I didnt realise I was propogating a part of her beliefs! But then I remembered this para:


Thousands of years ago, the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light, but he left them a gift they had not conceived, and he lifted darkness off the earth.

Throughout the centuries, there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every new thought was opposed; every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid. But they won.

No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers. His brothers hated the gift he offered.

His truth was his only motive.

His work was his only goal.

His work — not those who used it.



@Anu: Unconditional love of mother is for the well-being for her own child!That gives her satisfaction , so though there are no expectations, the joy out of that is, well, unmatchedd!

@jiju: Your posts are way too hi-funda! Mine are usually vent-outs!!
I agree with your soldier's case - he doesn't have time to think. But I do hate the association of 'unselfish' with a death that in all probability, would have made him happy and proud of himself!!

Kunal Chandra said...

If you read what Kant says about doing your duty with no sense of attachment - So for example if you feed a beggar and do it because you feel a sense of sympathy towards him/her then you are no longer performing only a duty in the right sense of the word. A duty should be just that it should be like stamping a passport at the airport - you dont care who the person his why is he travelling whether or not he will make it etc. You just do your duty.

And as someone rightly pointed out earlier, if you are getting anything out of an act - be it happiness, satisfaction, pleasure, redemption whatever you r not being selfless. Most of the times when we buy gifts for our parents and pay for our cousins school fees etc. we probably benefit more out of it than the perceived beneficiaries.

Archana said...

Kunal,
Wondering how many actually give money/food to beggars out of duty rather than sympathy. On second thoughts it reminds me of those filmy scenes where a rich man/woman feeds hundred of less fortunate outside a temple to get his wishes fulfilled.

Anyone giving food or money out of sympathy is, at the end of the day, doing to feel good about themselves.

PS: I am surprised when someone told me it is a cynical thought. This is a normal thought - and I am blaming the usage of a word. To each his own.

Chetan Dhadankar said...

can't agree more with you. .. way to go.. this one's so much more better dan the one where u criticize dog-kickers..

P.S: There is an episode of FRIENDS where Joey challenges Phoebe that there is no such thing as a perfectly unselfish act.. Your post reminded me of dat.. :)

Archana said...

Hahahaha - we will disagree on treatment to dogs, but thankfully, are in sync here!!

Hey, I remember that episode! Gkad to be compared with Phoebe? Have you read one hundred years of solitude? Phoebe is similar to Remedios don't you think?!