The Goodness of Selfishness

Seriously! Can there be anything good about selfishness? John Ruskin, a Victorian era Art critic, said, ‘When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.’
Even selfish people, I believe, initially will find the statement, the goodness of selfishness, odd and ironic.


Recently, on a flight, I was engrossed in an ebook while a flight attendant was demonstrating the pre-flight instructions. My wife asked,

‘Why are you not listening to the instructions?’

Swallowing my response (an excuse that it’s boring listening to the same thing over and over), I reluctantly, not without a strong resolve, dragged away my attention from my phone. I tuned in to the cabin crew guy’s ‘ramblings’ at the point he was saying,

‘In the case of a change in cabin pressure, the panels above your seat will open, and oxygen masks will drop down. If this happens, place the mask over your nose and mouth, and adjust it as necessary. Be sure to secure your own mask before helping others.

The first time I heard the last statement, ‘Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others’, a mental struggle ensued.

Why? That’s selfish, heartless and insensitive.

Today, though I always muse on the statement when I hear it, I have concluded it is the wise thing to do given the circumstances. With my mask on I am in a better position to help. Over time, my mental response has sailed from, ‘This is selfish!’ to, ‘Isn’t it selfish?’ and  finally berthed at, ‘It isn’t selfish. Infact it is selfless!’

‘Sometimes you have to be selfish to be selfless.’

My thoughts exactly! American actor, Edward Albert spoke my mind over six years ago.

How can equipping yourself to serve others be selfish? Focus on myself with the purpose to help others is the exhibition of goodness. It is the right thing to do. It is strategic. For instance, if you fail to take time to eat well and rest, you will be no good to anybody in a state of breakdown or burnout. Actually, you will be a burden.

On the other hand, developing myself just for me, is making ‘a pretty small package.’ A package that won’t do anyone any good. Even me.

Selfishness for the sake of selflessness is life; but selfishness for its sake will self-destruct.

Richard Whately, an English Rhetorician, Logician and Theologian, put it aptly, ‘A man is called selfish not for pursuing his own good, but for neglecting his neighbor’s.’

It is God’s way! How can you love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39) when you don’t love yourself?

Selfishness for the sake of selflessness is life; but selfishness for its sake will self-destruct.

In what ways are you preparing yourself to be helpful to others?

2 thoughts on “The Goodness of Selfishness

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