Selfish, Selfish, Selfish!

Elizabeth Gilbert on Selfish

Several years ago I saw Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speak in Dallas.  She was absolutely mesmerizing.  She was smart, funny, articulate, and if you looked closely, I swear you could see her mind working;  there was a quickness and spark that was almost visible, even from way in the back.

Someone in the audience asked her to share her thoughts on the word selfish.  After all, many of her critics claimed that only a selfish person could take such an extravagant journey as Gilbert describes in Eat, Pray, Love.  I could have sworn by the grin on her face, she had been anticipating that question.  It was one of those telling grins that said, Hold on to your hats, audience!

I felt myself wanting to slowly rub my hands together and let out a low, sinister laugh.  See, I’d known for years that being selfish wasn’t always a bad thing.  And now, I had the feeling that someone, someone famous, was about to validate my belief!

What funny, personal story would she tell?  As I was preparing for a good laugh, she went in a totally different direction.  Quick as a whip, she spouted off this fact:

“In Mandarin Chinese, they have two words for selfish.  One means doing that which is beneficial to you and the other means hoarding, greedy, and cruel.  We, in English, have pushed those two words together.”

Shocked by the simplicity of her response, the cleverness, and the poignancy, it has stuck with me all these years.

Why don’t we in English have a separate word for selfish, specifically used in the context of being beneficial to us?  I mean, isn’t it similar to the airplane example we often hear:  place the oxygen mask on ourselves first, then place one on our children?  Those are specific instructions we’re given each time we take a flight.  No one would think we’re selfish for following those directions, they’re considered life saving.

In our culture, our language, why is the word selfish merged with the greedy/hoarding sense of the word exclusively?

The Spiritual Side to Selfish

My guess is, if you read this blog on a regular basis, you are a Seeker of Truth.  And with being a Truth Seeker, you already know there are two sides to selfish, no Mandarin Chinese needed.  However, we are still human, and with that, it’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking S=selfish is purely “bad.”

How about every once in a while, you fully embrace being the center of the world? 

How about seeking more ways that exemplify putting the oxygen mask on yourself first?


Selfish or Truth and Honesty?

And Lastly, a Few Favorite Selfish Quotes:

Most fitting quote for today’s TLT post:  “Nothing resembles selfishness more closely than self-respect.”  ~ George Sand

Made me laugh out loud:  “Selfishness is a bad habit. That’s why I always rationally think through my decisions to act without regard for others.”  ~ Benson Bruno

Made me think of myself AND laugh out loud:  “I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”   ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground