How to Know When You’re Being Selfish


It’s easy to have your enthusiasms wither when someone insists you’re being Selfish. Easier to turn back from some promising discovery or life adventure than to struggle bravely onward and have to fear you're consuming more than your fair share of the room’s oxygen.

Being called Selfish, or even dreading you'll be, can be a real passion zapper.

So if you're after a life of aliveness and passion, understanding Selfishness is important. The clarity it brings will help you know when a course correct is needed, or just a thicker skin.


What’s Selfish After All


Here’s a definition lifted off the internet: selfish: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.

Apparently to avoid being selfish you need only do two things:

  1. Care about others, and act from that caring.

  2. Really consider another's position. 

Since we’re all pretty nice people number 1’s kinda covered. Number 2 is the one that really gets short shrift.

Because being fair (not selfish) is not about equal distribution of resources – time, money, attention, etc. It’s not about you get ten and I get ten and we call it good, which is easy, and takes little thought.

Really being fair means factoring in context – what the actual situation is at the time.

And understanding context requires thoughtfulness consideration and engagement. Only once you’ve thought the whole situation through will you know if you’re really overstepping a boundary and need to step back, or rather need to step up and call a bluff.


 Thoughts on Your Fair Share


Some things to consider when thinking about the context of a situation (and once you get the hang of it, you can add your own):

  • Is one person or group behind in some way – physically, mentally, emotionally and needs to catch up? If so, it matters and should be factored into the fairness equation with more weight.

  • Is there urgency to the situation – urgency matters, and should be factored in with more weight.

  • Is everyone participating in both the pain and the reward of a situation, and how, and to what degree: this matters, and should be factored in with more weight.

  • Is the situation set up so that the rewards automatically roll in one direction while the effort rolls in another: this matters, and should be factored in with more weight (and restructured)

  • Is this a one-time, largely insignificant tipping of the scales: if so, this doesn’t matter and should not be factored into the fairness equation.

  • Does your action disappoint but not disadvantage or break a commitment: if so, this doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be factored in (though recurring disappointments will have their consequences and could probably use a discussion)

  • Does your action challenge someone else’s ideas, but not their health, safety or bottom lines: if so, this doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be factored in (though it could probably use a discussion)


We could add more bullets to the list, but the ones listed will already start creating clarity around what’s really fair, your Selfish and their Selfish and where to draw some lines.

While none of us wants to be Selfish, neither should we willingly assign our portion of this world’s delight, richness, ease, thrill, abundance and our aliveness to anyone else. We impoverish ourselves when we do so, and ultimately those around us.

As always, I’d love to engage your thoughts on today’s post in the comment thread below. How do you know when you're being Selfish, and what have been your insights around this? 

It’s a real pleasure to hear your reactions and experiences and to deepen our understanding together.