Thinking for you? What does that mean? Well, here’s a story for you:
Sometime in the 50s or maybe it was the 60s of the previous century, a young woman was rummaging through the stocks of a second-hand book store. This young lady later became a famous Hollywood star and TV actress, but at that time, she was at one of the lowest points in her life.
As she went through the dog-eared, ramshackle piles of books, she came across a title that stood out. It was even a little shocking. “The Art of Selfishness”, it was called. On an impulse, she picked it up. As she riffled through the pages, one small paragraph jumped out at her:
“Don’t worry about the whole world. If you do,
it will overwhelm you. Worry about one wave at a time.
Please yourself. Do something for you,
and the rest will fall in line”
Reading that book changed her whole thinking. From that time on, before she did anything, she asked herself, “Is this going to be good for me?” This simple test became the rule by which she lived. If it was going to be good for her, she went ahead and did it, no matter what anyone else thought. If it wasn’t she didn’t.
Here are her words, quoted in a later edition of the book:
“You can’t imagine how calm and effective my life has become as a result of applying
this test,” she said. The Art of Selfishness helped me over one of the worst periods of my own life. I am sure it can do the same for anyone… Do what is good for you, and you will discover, as I did, that what is good for you is invariably good for others.”
Thinking for you
There. That’s what I mean by ‘thinking for you’. I’ve come to believe this is a very useful way of thinking about life and how to live it. The basic idea is to place myself at the centre of my life: ‘I am the most important person in my life.’
Sound horribly self-centred, doesn’t it? The very core of selfishness! But what is the meaning of selfishness? and how or why is it bad?
I struggled with this for the longest time; it seemed sinful to place my needs above those of others; indeed it seemed sinful to have any needs at all. This is not a good recipe for a happy life.
Selfishness for me at that time meant taking everything I could for myself , raising myself above everyone else, worshipping at the altar of I, me, mine.
Also not a recipe for a happy life, not in the long term. Selfish was clearly not the way to be. Or so I thought.
Until I came across this new way of thinking in my own encounter with The Art of Selfishness. It was written by a New York psychologist called David Seabury. From the thousands of people he saw in his practice, he evolved a theory about living which is practical, sensible, and leads to happiness for oneself and for others.
But isn’t selfishness evil?
It sounds almost blasphemous, but what Dr. Seabury (like some other authors) says is that selfishness, looked at the right way, is good—for you and for everyone around you. In Dr. Seabury’s case, he had real life cases that proved the point.
How could that be? It was contrary to everything I’d been brought up to believe.
I thought about it for some time. There were a few things I needed to understand:
I need to be self-reliant
In order to be of use to others, I needed to be able to stand on my own feet. Therefore, I had to look to my own needs and build up my own resources, which included health, finances, education and so on. And if my ideas of ‘selfishness’ were an obstacle to this, I had to get rid of them.
Looking out for myself is not immoral
One of the first things I needed to get rid of was the idea that looking out for myself was evil in some way. There is nothing immoral about looking after my own needs as long as I’m not violating someone else’s rights. It’s certainly wrong to harm anyone else, but if they get hurt because of their mental attitudes, that should not stop you from getting what you need or want.
I need to protect myself
This next thing was hard (for me) to accept: there are actually people in the world who will try and get me to do things, even if they are not in my best interest, as long as it serves their purposes. These are people I have to guard against.
I need to use my powers of reasoning
I can use reason and logic to overcome ingrained beliefs that have no use any longer; Many of these outdated beliefs may actually be barriers to progress, prosperity and happiness. We no longer believe in blood-thirsty gods that demand human sacrifice; but we often sacrifice ourselves at the altar of a superstitious morality.
I’m still on this particular journey of discovery. But it’s certainly been liberating to be finally able to throw the monkey of “selflessness” off my back.
I’m thinking for me now. Are you thinking for you?
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