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True Selflessness

Written by jayson. 5 comments Posted in: Philosophy

A few months ago I talked about reducing certain ideas that define each other by their opposite to irrelevancy when one eliminates one of the defining terms. In the example, if I say “every action is selfish”, then it erases the distinction between selfish and selfless; the terms vanish, and the only further use of the term is for its rhetorical purposes. That is, I am purposefully using the connotations of the word selfish without any of its actual meaning.

I wanted to bring this up because I was thinking recently of what we actually mean by “selfish” and “selfless”. I have been realizing increasingly that, ironically, we tend to use the terms in the context of ourselves, or our egos. That is, when someone accuses you of being selfish, what they are actually saying is, “please act in my interests”, even if those interests seem selfless from their perspective. This pollutes the definition of what selflessness actually means – to be without self.

True selflessness, then, is not achieved by acting in accordance with the wishes of other selves, but acting without self. While it is neither possible (definitionally) or practical to act in such a way all the time (then there would be no “you” acting, which is a useful abstraction), it is important to practice in such a way that maximizes your awareness of your ego, as an abstraction, and thus grant a modicum of “selflessness”.

This is what we mean and all we can mean by selflessness. To say otherwise is to contradict the very meaning of the term.

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  1. Jim Powers

    I take this on a different path. Selflessness is definitely ego-driven. However, selfless acts are those which we choose to perform even though it requires us to put our own wants aside. People can ask you to do things in their best interest, but only you can ask yourself to do things not in your own. The asking itself carries the connotation/expectation of gratification either through immediate thanks or quid pro quo down the road.

    On the other side, labeling someone as selfish is truly a selfish act itself, choosing the self-gratification of a feeling of superiority or in a public forum the approval or validation of those who “agree” that the person should do what you want them to.

    March 21, 2011 at 11:17 pm
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    • jayson

      I’m glad you wrote this, because it made me realize I missed a whole paragraph. Selflessness as “setting aside your wants” is exactly what I am trying to dispel here. You cannot set aside your wants; your actions are bound up in your desires because your actions are the only indicator of desires.

      So, given that you can’t set aside your wants… everything becomes selfish, which eradicates the terms and leaves something new. This new definition of selflessness is what I am trying to describe here; to be (as the imperfect form of the verb) selfless is to act while being aware of the ego (I usually refer to this as “riding the wave”), usually through practice, assisted by cyclic rituals of ego death.

      March 22, 2011 at 6:36 am
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  2. Jim Powers

    So then in the context you describe, would true selfishness be the lack of ability to consider actions that are not the most immediate/pressing/easy routes to gratification?

    I think self awareness has little to do with selflessness vs. selfishness in the generally accepted concepts in our social construct. I would say that just as many people who know themselves will act in their own best interest as those who will not.

    That said, selfishness/selflessness perhaps are merely subsets of generosity that are treated with undue reverence as they always deal with things that are either win or lose conditions.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:53 pm
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    • jayson

      Honestly, I don’t really believe in the term selfishness (hence why I think the terms destroy each other), since once there’s been a “you” abstracted, then every action “you” take is done precisely through your own irrational summation of your own values.

      You never do anything you don’t want to do, by definition. It is impossible to say “only in your interests” because there is no such action that is NOT only in your interests, from your perspective.

      For that reason, I am not trying to define selfISHness at all; only reclaim the term selfLESSness for what it is (to “be” without self). The opposite of selfLESSness in this case isn’t bad; it’s just what we do on a normal day-to-day basis.

      “That said, selfishness/selflessness perhaps are merely subsets of generosity that are treated with undue reverence as they always deal with things that are either win or lose conditions.”

      This is actually a very, very good point! We have a tendency to view things as all or nothing rather than TRUE wealth creation through trade. One of the things I haven’t got to talk about yet is how, when treating other actualizers as people, illustrated through the ability to trade, the Desire process is satisfied in a very powerful, efficient way, rather than in a zero or negative sum game.

      March 23, 2011 at 6:43 am
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  3. Jim Powers

    I agree. Give-a-Penny Take-a-Penny. It works at 7-11 and we don’t even think about it. The problem with that is that on one end everyone is forced to be generous, and on the other the few who are less generous weigh down those willing to share. It requires surrender of self on one side and surrender of self on the other – which we both know, being “selves”, can never happen for long before being discarded or overthrown.

    March 24, 2011 at 11:29 pm
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