He got a lot wrong in his own life, did Oscar Wilde, despite his dazzling genius. But when he said: "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live" he couldn’t have been more right.
Selfishness is open to a LOT of misinterpretation. Mostly, it’s used by people as a shorthand reproach. What they’re really saying is: “How dare you want to do something that affects you in your own way? Instead of putting my needs, wants, and desires above your own.”
You see, they know something really important. Heart-centred people dread being labelled selfish. They really do. I’ve conducted a few straw polls that suggest that a lot of women would cheerfully have a finger chopped off; if it meant they’d never be called selfish again.
Question: if they really were selfish – if they lived by the It’s All About Me credo – do you think they would really care about someone trying to pin the Selfish label on them?
It’s not that likely, is it?
They’d be more inclined to launch a counter-accusation along the lines of, “I can’t believe you could be so selfish as to say that about me. After all I’ve done for you.” Even if that “all”was only taking out the garbage once a decade…
What makes the Selfish label so awful for those of us who are not selfish?
It’s so awful because we’ve been taught that to be selfish is to be unlovable… We accept that as gospel. Despite managing to love - deeply and desperately - people who can be gob-smackingly, unrepentantly, selfish.
And we’ve been taught that selflessness is the opposite of selfishness. We’ve been taught, quite literally, to be self-less: to factor ourselves out of the equation.
How well does that work?
It works exceedingly well for those significant others who ask you to live your life their way. But when it comes to you… Well, unless you like ‘running on empty’ – and most people don’t – let’s say it lacks charm.
Selflessness will drain you dry. There are plenty of times in a life when you have to make the care of another person a priority. Does that mean you shouldn’t take time to care for yourself, also, a priority?
It really shouldn’t, should it?
When you do the best you possibly can for other people, aren’t you entitled to do the best for yourself, also?
Selfishness is about focusing on yourself to the exclusion of all others. Selflessness is about focusing on other people to the exclusion of yourself.
The happy way lies somewhere in between the two.
Don’t you think you deserve to live that happy middle way?