Life Lessons

Self-Reliant or Just Being Selfish?

I listen with attention to the judgement of all men; but so far as I can remember, I have followed none but my own.

~ Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes…we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions – especially selfish ones.

~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-)

I RECENTLY have been experiencing a reoccurring thought about the balancing act between trying to be self-reliant and just being plain selfish as an individual after hearing my dad suddenly remark to a NPR news report we both heard on the radio Monday afternoon and from recalling numerous lessons my dad has taught me over the years—lessons that still resonate and reverberate to me loud and clear in my mind.

Now before I continue, I’d like to address the main difference between the two because believe it or not, although at first they may sound like two opposing personality traits, they both share one archetype in common: the self.

Universally speaking, we humans are both blessed and cursed with the gift of self-reliance.

On the positive, self-reliance has been the one human virtue that carries us forward as individuals. In a sense, it is the towering virtue associated with this concept called individualism. Now this obviously isn’t a new idea. It’s been reflected throughout the ages. We humans have been self-reliant of ourselves for as long as humans have been around.

But here’s the downside: once someone reaches a stage in their life where they assume full responsibility and independence for their actions they might start to develop a rather selfish mindset. That is, someone might gradually assume that since they’re so independent they won’t lean on the support of others and vice versa.

This person will, in time, start to think that the world has to revolve around them “or else.”

Now how do I know this? Because I’ve met and known people firsthand who are extremely greedy and selfish of a lot of things, though I won’t go into all the details for now.

The point I really want to address here though is, how can we humans become less selfish and more selfless in a society that’s as corrupt and selfish as it already is?

Well if I wanted to be straightforward and blunt about the matter I would suggest the first step to fighting one’s selfishness is to just admit that you are selfish straight up front—no ifs, ands or buts about it; because as Dr. Laurence J. Peter says, “There are two kinds of egotists: Those who admit it, and the rest of us.”

Now, in order to further clarify I am not trying to state that being self-reliant will inevitably make you selfish. I am in fact stating just the very opposite. It’s good to be self-reliant. It’s in fact great to take charge of yourself, to make your own decisions growing up, to call your own shots, and to direct your own path. This is all great, but as an old adage forewarns, “With great power comes great responsibility” and here is where we plot our own downfalls, literally and metaphorically.

I myself have been advised by numerous people and have firsthand bared witness to this kind of tragedy before in my life. I have seen it occur among relatives, friends, classmates, other adults and even myself at times as a matter of fact.

But I can tell you all that it’s not a very pleasant experience. It’s not pleasant to know that you can get so stuck-up and haughty that you look down upon others and treat them as inferior to you or worse, when you are completely blind to the whole affair.

Because the truth of the matter is, the world is still experiencing corrupt times—and the ones who try their very best to be the humanitarians of this world are constantly caught in the crossfire.

In a world that’s not getting any more pleasant (and in some ways, less environmentally sustainable as well) people seem to be turning more and more selfish and greedy than ever before.

Now I hate to sound like a hypocrite here and say this but I’m not a large supporter of charities in general either. Money’s very tight these days as it already is and the American (and world) economy in general is on a slow rugged road to recovery.

Still my heart echoes that message to get out there and be a humanitarian to those hurting, hungry and homeless around the world. Mozambique is one such example.

As part of NPR’s program called All Things Considered a new series called ‘Beginnings’ is airing all summer long covering extensive news reports on efforts to call to attention crucial issues happening around the globe.

In Mozambique it’s all about lowering the maternal and infant death rates and providing health care workers to those regions who could use a helping hand in handling newborns.

This is where my dad gawked. “Why help those people now? The world’s already overpopulating as it is and if we continue to help them [Africans] we’re actually creating more problems for the future. More wars etc.”

Unfortunately, my dad’s remark came across to me as being more of a selfish comment above anything else. It’s true that the world is rapidly overpopulating and industrialized, developed nations have a lot of problems on their hands as well. I’m not going to neglect that for the moment.

But I think the heart of the matter here is to provide solutions to helping out third-world countries. A practical goal could be that once these nations start developing a sustainable economy for its people industry and jobs would come shortly after, or at least that’s the dream I guess.

But it’s not going to be an easy goal that’s for sure.

Political and economic corruption is still afoot nearly everywhere in the world.

(Not to mention Dad also reminds me that most African governments weed out money from charities and organizations, and that’s just a sad and cruel tidbit to even think about.)

Aside from all the corruption though, many second and third-world countries are slowly becoming more self-reliant. Let’s just hope it will continue that way. Then, the governments and economies of those nations will gradually climb as well.

At the end of the whole matter, it’s still a huge balancing act to follow through on behalf of all of us—on behalf of a global community.

I’m just trying to even out the scales a little bit more. I hope you will do too.

Think about it and make the right choice. It’s all about balance here.

Enough said.

~ A Fellow Columnist, Josh Chen.

P.S. If you are interested in reading more about the situation in Mozambique go to

1 comment on “Self-Reliant or Just Being Selfish?

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