The truth about ‘Selfishness’

Picture this:

You are stranded in the middle of the ocean, desperately trying to keep yourself afloat as you scramble for air in the smothering darkness.

The night is quiet around you, the world submerged in an ominous silence.

The sounds of your heavy breathing and your hands flailing in the water are the only things that pierce through the quiet.

The vast expanse of the inky blue sea is all you can see, along with a single narrow plank floating a few meters away from you.

What will you do?

You swim to the plank and save yourself from a sure death by using the wood to keep you afloat.

But your choice isn’t that simple.

You’re not alone.

I’m there along with you, scrambling for the same air you fill your lungs with and my eyes are frozen on the same plank that yours are riveted on.

It is narrow, lethally narrow, a close fit for even one person.

The water seems to be rising, your body slowly surrendering to the pull of the ocean. You feel the terror, the smothering panic as it dawns on you that the plank is your only chance at life.

What will you do now?


You have two choices:

You can be the chivalrous one, let me have the plank and save myself, while you surrender to the turbulent waters.

Or you can choose to save your own life and allow me to drown to my death, trade my life in place of yours.

My desperate shouts will fill the night sky, pleas for mercy, but you will not look back.

You cannot.

A few minutes will pass, and my cries will be smothered by the ocean, fading out into the night. My body will be taken in by the inky darkness, as I’d never really existed.

The world will be submerged in the eerie silence again; the silence of sin, the silence of murder.


What will you choose?

Will you be the murdered or the murderer? A victim or a survivor?

Will you kill and save yourself?

Or die with the knowledge that you’d saved my life?


We’ve all been programmed to believe that to take that plank and not look back would be a sin, a cruelty.

That we should choose to be caring and selfless and give up our lives in an oh-so valiant gesture for another person.

We celebrate sacrifice, romanticize it.

And we demonize ‘selfishness’, we look down on people who choose themselves first, people who make the most of the lives they’ve been given.

And yet, we’re all inherently selfish, as human beings, we’re programmed to look at our own lives first.

And at the end of the day, if it really comes to it, we will take the plank for ourselves.

So why then, do we force ourselves to feel guilty for being unable to give without losing ourself in the process?

Why do we torment ourselves to sacrifice as much as we can without giving a thought to our own hopes and dreams?

Why do we make ourselves responsible for the failures and successes of the ones we love?

 


The truth is:

The only fate you can control is yours.

The only life you have power over is the one you’re living right now.

And the only life you are truly responsible for is your own.

Not mine.

And not the person you love drowning next to you.

Give as much as you can, but when you can give no more, know that it is still love to let go.


Even the purest of flames have the potential to destroy.

And even the best intentions can sometimes do more harm than good.

Give up a dream for someone you love, however harmless an action, and there’s a good chance you might have destroyed a relationship that could’ve flowered.

Love can survive the puncture of hatred and scab over. But bitterness and resentfulness will raze it to the ground.

To give because you truly want to is one thing, but to sacrifice because you feel pressured to is quite another.

And the difference between the two is happiness and bitterness.

Your life is waiting for you. And the clock is ticking.

What do you choose?

 

 

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341 thoughts on “The truth about ‘Selfishness’

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  1. Hi! Let me first say that your writing is beautiful and evocative; setting the scene in an empty ocean helps to really emphasize the difficulty of the decision between selfishness and selflessness. I think you also point out a very important aspect of the topic: at times (and in moderation, of course) selfishness can be the moral choice. In a toxic relationship, for example. The selfless thing to do is to “stick it out” and keep trying, despite how futile it may be. The selfish thing is to decide that you deserve better and to cut your losses. Sometimes being selfish is the better of two options. Thanks for the compelling read!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much, Lana!
      Agreed, there are so many situations today where we feel pressurized to do the ‘right’ thing when it’s not doing anyone any favours.
      I’m so glad my words resonated with you! ❤

      Like

  2. I CAN’T BELIEVE I WASN’T FOLLOWING YOU ALREADY! *gasps* I AM YOUR FAN NOW! TRULYYY!! It’s not everyday that I come by a blog which is so gorgeous, both to look at and to read, that I just!! UGH….I feel sick with happiness after reading this! God, I LOVE YOUR MIND, Natalie!! ❤ ❤ KEEP WRITING BECAUSE YOU ROCK AT IT! ❤ Have a beautiful day! ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  3. There’s no way that’s going down without a fight.
    Selfishness can be overridden by the conscious and aware person but it’s there in all of us, self preservation ultimately wins, especially in such life or death scenarios.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe, but that’s irrelevant here. The focus here is on how you feel, not on the situation itself.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts here! ❤

      Like

  4. So eventually I read something that addresses the issue of when self preservation, the natural instinct is challenged by the moral imperative. Nicely sketched.
    It is interesting because as I am often reminded in life there is a third and fourth choice. However, our natural inclination is to focus on the life and death issue.
    Having set a similar conundrum to students one came back with the point you could choose to collaborate, the plank is a floatation device for when strength is failing so share the time you have. Another said you could both choose to die.
    The point you address about selfishness is articulated well however I’d like to understand your reasoning on the point of sacrifice because we are all compelled make sacrifices,

    I really enjoyed the post and taking me back to the days when I taught Problem Solving and ethics.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s an interesting point you make there… we do have a third and fourth choice, but for the purpose of this concept, I wanted the emphasis to be on how you felt while making the choice, or how you would judge someone else for making theirs. The choice itself was irrelevant, because mostly, your self-preservation insticts would kick in.
      I meant to say that we often feel compelled to sacrifice our dreams for the people we love, and most of the time, it makes both parties resentful, benefitting no one.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here! I really enjoyed the new perspective ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you about the stark choice and how the self preservation response is a two edged sword.
        Sacrifice, my personal viewpoint, I have never made a sacrifice grudgingly, I weigh the outcome before it is made and then accept the outcome. The sacrifice is always made to benefit another or others. So I have never resented any sacrifice, why is that?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well, I definitely can’t speak for everyone here… if you’ve personally never resented any sacrifice, then you must be very fortunate in that aspect. I grew up around people who gave up their dreams for family and turned bitter in the process. It was heartwrenching to see relationships go sour that was, and that was the point I was trying to get across…

          Liked by 1 person

  5. A compelling and evocative read!

    How do we really know what we would do until confronted in this very situation?

    You read so much about the selflessness of people dying whilst trying to save others, so it’s hard to really know whether I would choose self-preservation over death.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for uploading this post. I love the imagery you give of the sea. It sounds like an unbridled abyss.

    This feels like the story of my family. My parent and sibling have asked me to sacrifice my dreams and goals to help them financially. I had to say no but felt guilty nonetheless for not sacrificing my life goals.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Call me stubborn but I’m not convinced there are only two options. Drown or be drowned? Nah, cooperation can destroy the false dichotomies society imposes upon us. Together we’ll find the third path or die trying. At least that’s what I believe. Sure, selfishness can be justified to a degree, but I don’t think acceptance of a harsh ‘reality’ is necessarily the way forward. Sometimes you need to refuse to conform to find a better way. Maybe I will take the plank for myself but I’ll do my damn best to keep you alive long enough to find a better solution. Perhaps it’s youthful naivety but I prefer my outlook on life.
    I liked the piece though, thought-provokingas it was. Kudos

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Of course it would depend on the situation. Creativity is borne from harrowing circumstances. The most obvious scene that comes to mind is of Rose and Jack, often ridiculed because that door was big enough to hold both. But even if it hadn’t been, alternating might be an option. What I don’t consider an option, however, is accepting either one of the options given without even bothering to search for an alternative. Yeah saving yourself is fun and all but survivor’s guilt is a real thing that I would think most people would like to avoid if possible. And honestly, your snappy suggestion isn’t as ludicrous as it seems. What are the chances the piece of wood is the only thing floating around in the ocean? With the state of our oceans, is it really that hard to imagine something else would be floating around? It’s easy to ridicule the hopeful but your cynicism isn’t exactly helpful in such a situation. So no, I don’t have an easy third option ready for you but just because we can’t see it in this hypothetical scenario with limited information doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
        This will also be my last reply to this comment. I have said all I wanted to say in my original comment anyway. With everyone else, we can agree to disagree.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed reading this conundrum and the ensuing discussion. If I were drowning in the sea I’m sure that I’d be panicked and irrational. However, as an old lady, I’d like to think that I might be rational and if the other person were healthier and younger I might judge that they would have a better chance of survival and would certainly have longer to enjoy the results of that survival. If I reached such a decision and acted upon it, I call it a result or rational rather than unselfishness! It would be hard if we were of the same age and physical and condition – then who knows!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a controversial post. I like the creativity and thought put into it. The idealist inside me thinks I would find a way to save us both.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you… for your words resonate my own experiences that I fail to express. It’s incredible how there are so many people who feel the same things – despite existing in different times and places.

    I appreciate this piece, and you as a writer. Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed: I’m still surprised when I feel that tug of bonding, reading someone else’s piece and it never fails to amaze me how much people can connect even without knowing a single thing about each other.
      I’m honoured you could experience that in my writing ❤
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment here… it means more to me than you could ever imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not a problem! It’s what I love about this community – I feel like I’m part of a big family connected by our feelings (as lame as that sounds haha).
        You absolutely deserve it – your writing is beautiful!! I look forward to more from you 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. When I came across your website, I was preoccupied with studying about the congenital heart diseases (for the exam I had the next day) but I anyway went ahead with reading your blog post. It really seized my attention. The way you painted the story with your words was truly ravishing. It felt as though I was there in that situation where I had to choose between morality and self-preservation.

    For the wonderful and captivating blog that you wrote, I didn’t want to rush into commenting so I waited for a few days until I got free, read your blog again in peace and decided to comment finally.

    I just wanted to say I am truly happy to have come across your website and I am too excited to read more of your genius writing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, I was literally laughing out loud reading this because I’ve done the exact same thing so many times and it’s really just come full circle now 🙂
      I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my posts and that my words resonated with you! It really means a lot to me.
      Thank you so much, Divya, for taking the time to read and share this with me… you just made my day ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This makes me think of the one where there is a man driving a one-passenger car in a hurricane. He sees the woman of his dreams, his best friend and a person having a heart attack. Who would the man with the car save in the emergency? He gives the keys to the best friend to drive the heart attack victim to the hospital and stays to die with the woman of his dreams.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. What a read, it challenged me to think deeply of how selfless I am and how selfish l can be and to flash back on many encounters where l helped because of guilt and some where l didn’t help and guilt tormented me… Thanks for this

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hi Natalie, thank you for noticing my blog! I am glad to know that someone would want to take time to read it and follow it. Your posts are so encouraging, I resonate with this one the most, because I’m learning to be selfish these past months so I will be able to love and to care for myself more. I’d love to hear more from you! Have a good day! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. True… but honestly, I feel like what you do choose doesn’t really matter in this context, its what you feel you ‘have’ to choose.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts here! It really means a lot to me, Rosi ❤

      Like

  15. The only problem with this question is its opposite… selflessness. Does being selfless not count, when looking at that board? And what of option 3, sharing the board? One person holds the board, while the other floats, and then trade! Few things are so black and white, and though a thought provoking argument, again, we are rarely limited to just two options.
    Both could hang on, neither keeping it for “themselves”, merely reserving strength together… Did they just come from a shipwreck? Or from the shore? They could, together, use the board to better battle the waves, and combining their strengths make it back, where neither could have alone.
    Food for thought, still a good read. (Trying to remember where I’d read something similar… :-p ).

    Liked by 3 people

  16. There is a problem here. What you describe is hypothetical and imaginary problems cannot be solved. The real problem is this – we unconsciously follow an incorrect calendar and as a result – we are unable to connect securely to the cosmic currents. Thanks for following my blog.. I will be writing more on this as I believe there is no darkness, only an absence of light that we can shine.. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe not, but you’re missing the point. The focus here isn’t a solution. It’s what you feel you ‘have’ to do. Maybe its unlikely you’ll be stranded alone in the ocean with a single plank, but it’s far more likely that you are expected to make sacrifices in particular situations. The question can be a metaphor for anything at all; it doesn’t have to be taken in the literal sense.
      And ‘there is only an absence of light that we can shine in’ is such a beautiful thought<3

      Like

  17. I’ll save myself…that was my first thought whilst reading…then I felt guilty and felt I should save you even though I don’t know you..but your words reassured me…convinced me that choosing myself is not a sin or even a crime…thank you for this. I really needed that this morning…

    You write beautifully!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. This addresses so plainly what my own writing is so often about. You’ve gotten to the heart of one of my most dear ideas, that it might be okay to let the universe be you-centric for a while. I’d say keep it up as if you were in my shoes, but you’ve got it all pretty well kept. I am a fan, is what I’m trying to say.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This is the most interesting post I’ve read in a long time, and very relevant to my life. If I was in the water with a child, or someone significantly younger than me, with lots of life ahead, I would likely give them the plank, though I’d try to touch base occasionally waiting for help to arrive. This brings up the relevance to taking responsibility (emotionally) for the failures and successes of my adult children as I work to step back from them. On the other hand, I did let go of the counseling job I did for 30 plus years when I finally had the chance. In the last ten years I worked that job, I kept saying, “I’m not going to let this job kill me.” I feel very little guilt for that and great relief. So many applications and great wisdom in your words. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmm, I can definitely relate to that, though in different circumstances. I think all of us, at some point in our lives, are guilty of this, though it can be hard to face it.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your story here, Joanna! It really means a lot to me ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Selfishness in humans is easily derived from the ‘importance’ and ‘value’ parents put into their children. I dont mean this in a negative way, but mean its similar to pampering or what nowadays we call “participation awards.” Growing we a are taught the importance of doing all kinds of things, being part of society and such, helping humanity as a whole progress. A big influence was the idea of space travel, going green for the environment, and other movements.

    This put value into our lives, making us worth something and our worth, is how much we can learn in school. Our selfishness grew from the idea that we have some value to our society and we only know our own worth.

    From this in any dilemma many will choose to grab the plank then save the stranger. They know their own value, even if it was a loved one their decision might only hesitate a little but still be the same in the end.

    That does not all mean that everyone is like this. Afterall if we compete for the same job and have the sams degree only one of us will win and the other the loser.

    To win or lose isn’t the question, but it changes the mindset. ‘What do I achieve when I win? What do I lose out on if I fail?’ Many can attest to these questions after all many are still paying their college tuition off. Those of us who have failed at something can see how much value they have and a estimation of those around them. These people are the ones who put forth others rather than themselves.

    So at this point how do we progress after being kicked down? We praise the winners some more. We humble ourselves, avoiding the spotlight because the glammer we used to strive for would only be bittersweet.

    The winners humble themselves to look better, we humble ourselves because we know better.

    Its a matter of interpretation. Understand that nothing is more powerful than words.

    A great example was Nietzsche he wrote a book, died, and then his book raised up Nazis. Didn’t know that? Übermensche. Go figure.

    Best part? He didn’t advocate for it, they just interpreted that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmmm that’s really an intriguing insight you have there…
      I’ve never really thought about it that way, but now that you point it out, I definitely agree.
      Perception is reality, no matter how much we might wish otherwise.
      And thank you so much for the new perspective! It really means a lot to me that you took the time to read and share this here ❤

      Like

  21. thinking about this says more about me and my shortcomings. everyone might want to think she (or he) would be heroes, but the difference between heroes and cowards, selfless and selfish, is in that terrible moment. And then there is the well-documented guilt that survivor(s) have. Man, you paint a really challenging picture! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Enjoyed the story. Daily life is full of tough choices. Not all are life or death, but none the less tough. Something to consider is that we are not separate beings. All life is made up of one energy. We are all connected so if I live, you live. If I die, you die. I get the purpose of the story is to realize we can be selfish, and it isn’t evil. I’m suggesting that selfishness doesn’t exist except in our minds. We cannot do anything that only benefits us. Everything that benefits us, benefits others. It’s more complicated and more simple than who dies and who lives. We all do both.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Wow that was amazing and so true! I’m just beginning in this journey of mine to do what I truly love and believe is inlign with my purpose in life. Now I just have to trust the process and do a lot of learning and reading and I’m delighted that I checked out your blog can’t wait to read more!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Really, I’m OK with selfish when it’s life and death. I bought a weapon when I had children in case someone threatened their lives. But, there are amazing people out there who don’t think that way. I will always remember a Navy chaplain who gave up his life vest to a sailor after their ship was sunk in WWII.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Humans are born many things, that doesnt mean it’s okay. Not to beat ourselves up but to become better people, ultamatley for the benefit of everyone involved, including ourselves. It’s never good to starve yourself of course,after all you can’t give from an empty tank. But in the imagined scenario of being lost at sea, its a given that I wont commit murder, not because im forced not to, but out of love and trust. You really never know what might change drastically based on choices made.If i let the other person go, I might find another rescue option, or, I might die at peace. Your description is incredible by the way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Most of us will grab the plank and not think about it till later, I would like to think I would try to take a rest with it then let the other person take a rest with it until something happens to one or other of us. Some people have an unbelievable strength of will and will last longer. Saying that I would still feel massive guilt about being the survivor. But if you are in a situation that continuously pulls you down, leave it and find a more positive life that helps you grow.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Wow! Very interesting.In my opinion, there are two kinds of “Selfishness”. First one, we gotta love ourselves first in order to be able to love others and second, we gotta love people like we love ourselves.We should stop thinking that everything is selfishness and also be careful and wise enough to realize when we are actually being selfish. I know one thing: The only one who was willing to give His own life for us, and did it, was Jesus Christ. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. “To give because you truly want to is one thing, but to sacrifice because you feel pressured to is quite another.”
    accidentaly, i’ve been in this position. no, im not stucking in the middle of the see with another person and should be choosen to be a murderer or a hero, it’s different in imagery. well, i do love someone. he’s 2 years below me we’re at the same high school. normaly when im graduate from high school he used to be go to the next grade. and yeah im graduate and he is up to the next grade. but the problem is when i will go to the university after i graduated i should be postponed until next year, and when i almost postponed again untill i can finally together go to university with him i accepted at university, to be honest im glad cause i felt like im not being his rival, but the other i felt sad cause im afraid that it would be separated us. and beside im afraid if i sacrifice something to him again, he would not do the same as me. but the feeling of love is real. how is your thought about that?

    Like

  29. The adult version of “The Giving Tree”. I loved it. There are many levels to your post. I enjoyed it and have thought about my comment as I read the hundreds of others. On the surface, as a firefighter I don’t wholeheartedly agree. But on the deeper level, I most certainly do. Fantastic job and fantastic post inciting so much debate and helping readers peel back the layers. I am your newest follower!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha thank you so much!
      Well, I didn’t mean it on the surface either. I think that’s something many people don’t understand, which has definitely lead to a lot of misunderstanding here.
      Again, thank you so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts here! It really means a lot ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  30. I liked this a lot. It strongly echoed sentiments I’ve read in Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” as well as the Stoic philosophy of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. You’re a very thoughtful writer and I was riveted by this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Andrew!
      I’ll definitely check them out… I’ve heard of the Stoic philosophy and it was certainly intriguing by I haven’t come across the other one
      I’m so glad you liked it! Thank you so much, again, for taking the time to read and share your thoughts here! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Hi Natalie, I love what you do. This has given me alot to think about; immediately I’ve thought if I were in that situation and it was a family member, rather than a stranger, how much would that influence my decision? It’s true that there are alot of people who mean alot to us out there, but even in a situation like that, with people I care dearly about, would I sink or swim? There’s alot you can do with the concepts you right about. You’ve got yourself a new follower! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Hello Natalie, I really enjoyed this blog and read it a couple of times and thought about it a lot. I think we would all save ourselves, except for a parent and child situation. I liked Zafar Satyavan’s comments. I’m new at this blogging business and am looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. To give in because you want to and to sacrifice grudgingly because you feel pressured to reflect two facets of being. You carry the reader so we’ll to this precipice which reflects where one is on the journey of life and our perception of self. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. This whole post resonated with me. But I particularly loved this line:

    “Give up a dream for someone you love, however harmless an action, and there’s a good chance you might have destroyed a relationship that could’ve flowered.”

    Really enjoyed your writing style too. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. to love is to lose. its better to lose oneself for another, than for oneself. i’ll always choose the other person’s life. thats why i’ll always lose. still its the right thing to do.

    Like

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