Between Selfishness and Altruism

I was talking to a buddy of mine today about selfishness and altruism. Were kind of convinced that being altruistic makes no sense if you feel miserable.

So where do we start? If there’s one thing that I remember from all of the recordings I have listened from Alan Watts archives is that an effective way of figuring out the sense of words is through etymology. So let’s have a go at it.

Selfishness is pretty simple, it is a combination of self and ish. A worthy synonym is self-seeking. We can conclude that selfishness is to be concerned of our ‘self’.

Altruism is a bit more difficult, it retains it’s root in Latin and it’s meaning comes from a French word. This word being ‘autre’ which means ‘other’. It can be helpful to think of it as the opposite of egoism(which, by the way, is another synonym for selfishness).

Alright, now that we know what both of these words mean we can look at our initial statement. Let us repeat that statement; we said that it made little sense to put altruism before selfishness. Our reasoning is pretty simple. We think that you cannot care for others if you cannot care for yourself. For example, what good will an unhappy doctor do to his patients? Can he really put their well-being before his? Maybe, in some circumstances, but they would be exceptional. If he’s on the verge of dying then it makes sense that he might try to muster his remaining strength and help his patients.

We talked about this for a while longer. Overall we think that selfishness is given a bad name. Probably because it provides a sense of neglect towards the needs of other human beings. So what? To us, selfishness represents the act of providing water to our inner-plant. A good bit of selfishness will oil ones engine smooth. Then, when the engines running smoothly it can start helping other systems. There’s a good reason they say you should put your oxygen mask before helping your neighbors in the incidence of a technical issue on any given flight.

This applies to entrepreneurship as well, to express a desire, to want something for yourself, that is perfectly adequate and we believe it is a solid first step towards eventually bringing value to something that is bigger than ourselves.

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