Selfishness is a virtue not a sin

Graphic+by+Ayomi+Wolff
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Selfishness is a virtue not a sin

Graphic by Ayomi Wolff

Graphic by Ayomi Wolff

Graphic by Ayomi Wolff

Graphic by Ayomi Wolff

Virginia Suardi

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When you hear the words “you’re so selfish,” they probably feel like an insult. To call someone “selfish” is to criticize their character, label them immoral, and suggest that they pay too much attention to themselves and not enough to others. Being “selfish” is one of society’s biggest “no-no’s,” because in theory, it directly contradicts the teachings of some of humanity’s greatest visionaries and moral leaders, and is simply unacceptable. But is selfishness really so evil?

In our society, images, symbols, and sayings that revile selfishness are everywhere. Cultural and religious figures like Mother Teresa and Jesus Christ are revered for their self-sacrificial practices. The Bible encourages “regard[ing] one another as more important than yourselves;” (Philippians 2:3), and in the Qu’ran, the prophet Muhammad declares that, “He who goes to bed full when his neighbor is hungry is not one of us. Renowned thinkers have called selfish individuals “thieves,” “blind,” and “charm-exterminators,” and claimed that selfishness “paralyzes enjoyment,” is “the greatest curse of the human race,” and the “root and source of all natural and moral evils.”

But when did being primarily self-concerned become such a sin?

It seems to me that there has been a cultural eschewing of the term “selfishness.” Why treat the words “selfish” and “greedy” as the same when they are far from synonyms?

Why are “self-help” books and websites that promote self-love and self-kindness too often dismissed as laughable, self-absorbed, and self-obsessed? It is not debatable that self-care and reflection are essential components of an individual’s physical and emotional health. Why should we be so embarrassed to champion these things?

The truth is that selfishness in and of itself is not all bad. In fact, it pretty closely resembles self-respect.

Putting yourself before others is not evil. What most people do not realize is that you should be the most important person in your life! After all, you are the only one that will always be there for you, the person that will carry you through every moment of your life, the person that will pick you back up every time you fall. At its core, selfishness is an act of love, imperative to a balanced and wholesome life.

Not only is self-centeredness often gratifying for the individual that practices it, but it is beneficial for everyone around them. Reasonable self-indulgence helps to focus our priorities, quiet our minds, and make us happier. That means that our more motivated, positive selves will radiate positive energy to the people around us, collectively making everyone feel better.

Of course, this is not to negate the fact that some self-centered behaviors can be extremely harmful and these types of selfishness should be avoided. There are certainly places where humans can stand to be much more selfless, including environmental issues, excessive wealth management, and political and human rights movements. Additionally, it is worth noting that altruistic behaviors like engaging in volunteer work and community service have a hugely positive effect on mental health, while also being very beneficial to the people that receive that help.

My point is that nobody should be ashamed of acting in a way that prioritizes themselves. This applies especially to women, since we have an extremely unhealthy tendency to self-deprecate for the sake of others. Let’s all stop shaming people for doing good for themselves. When we take self-prioritizing actions and behave in a self-beneficial way, we are helping ourselves and everyone around us. Step it up, everyone, and don’t be afraid to love yourself, take care of yourself, and do things that will benefit yourself. I promise you will be happier.