When is being selfish justified?

Idea Journal Weekly 3


Subscribe to our newsletter

By subscribing, you agree with Revue’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy and understand that Idea Journal Weekly 3 will receive your email address.


Idea Journal Weekly 3

July 31 · Issue #254 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Selfishness gets a bad rap. But being selfish is sometimes necessary so that you can maintain your focus—or your sanity. This issue offers a few perspectives about when you should put yourself before others.
(~4 min read)

1. Whose life are you living?
Should you pursue your dreams or take care of a sick parent?
Tough choice. The following story is an autobiographical sketch from the book The Art of Selfishness, by the psychologist David Seabury.
David grew up in St. Louis, Missouri with five brothers and sisters.
When he was 18, he was accepted into a prestigious art school in Vienna. For David, it was his dream come true: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
But his mother was sick with an undiagnosed illness, and it seemed like she could die at any time. Her children would visit her every day. 
When David mentioned the art school opportunity to his family, everyone said: “Well of course you can’t go! You need to stay with your mother during her final days!”
David was conflicted. He felt horrible about having to make such a decision, but also felt that he had to accept the offer.
So he moved to Vienna. 
His mother disowned him. His brothers and sisters screamed about his selfishness, and didn’t speak to him for several years. Everyone thought he was a terrible person. 
David told this story at the age of 38:
“And now, 20 years later, my mother is still alive. I’ve followed my dreams, had a great career and an amazing life, while my brothers and sisters have given up their whole lives to stay by my mother’s bed, still to this day.”
#2. If you ruin yourself, your other priorities won’t matter
Author and cartoonist Scott Adams writes in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big that priorities “are the things you need to get right so that the things you love can thrive.”
For Adams, it’s useful to think of your priorities as concentric circles, like a dartboard.
Your highest priority, in the center, is you: “If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other priorities. So taking care of your health is job one.”
Your second-highest priority, in the second ring, is economics (e.g., your job, any investments, and your home): Adams admits that it may seem odd to put economics ahead of your family and friends, “but if you don’t get your financial engine right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.”
The third ring includes your family, friends, and romantic partners: you need them to truly enjoy life.
The next rings are your local community, your country, and the world – in that order: don’t worry about trying to save the world until your inner rings are under control.
Adams acknowledges that the problem with his model is that life is never this simple: you can’t tell your boss that your assignment will be late because you want to go for a long, healthy walk.
To deal with conflicting priorities, he suggests a simple rule: judge how each one affects your personal energy.
It isn’t a foolproof gauge, but if you know a particular path will leave you drained, stressed, and unhealthy it’s probably the wrong choice. The right choices can be challenging, but they typically energize you.
For example, if your boss asks you to work over the weekend on something that you consider engaging and worthwhile, you may be willing to give up some of your personal life and health. But if your boss routinely asks you to work weekends “for no good reason other than to claw through piles of brain-deadening administrative work, you probably need to look for a new job.”
One criticism of using energy as your guide is that there are plenty of bad choices that energize you in the short run.
But as Adams points out, the dumb choices are usually obvious: “we all know, for example, that shoving cocaine up our noses isn’t a good long-term strategy.”
#3. “Leave your supermodel friends at home”
Author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of Thinking Clearly that we’re often susceptible to a misconception called the “contrast effect.”
We judge something to be beautiful, expensive, or large if we have something in front of us that’s ugly, cheap, or small.
We have difficulty with absolute judgements.
The contrast effect can lead to life-changing problems. For example, an accomplished and charming woman marries a fairly average man. But because her parents were awful people, her otherwise ordinary husband appears to be a prince. 
Yet as Dobelli points out, you can also use the contrast effect to your advantage – especially if you’re pursuing a romantic partner.
We’re all bombarded with advertisements featuring supermodels, and one effect is that we now perceive otherwise beautiful people as only moderately attractive.  
So if you’re seeking a romantic partner, never go out with your supermodel friends. Others will find you less attractive than you really are. 
Instead, take Dobelli’s advice: “Go alone or, better yet, take two ugly friends.”
Quote of the week
“Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”
- Writer Jane Austen in her book Mansfield Park
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
Did you enjoy this issue?
In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue
New York, NY