Selfish Behavior and Comprehensive Benefits


Selfishness has become a concept with overwhelmingly negative connotations. The word is used in a disparaging manner, and implies a character defect. Selfish behavior suggests that I attend to my own needs to the detriment of other people. Particularly when selfish behavior involves immediate consequences, there are many instances when this definition is accurate. It is possible though, that my interests can align with others’ pursuits. A selfish act can also be to the best action for the planet or a community at large. Selfishness does not need to be mutually exclusive with the well-being of others.

If I chose to turn out the lights in my home more often, my motivations can be purely selfish: I am protecting my habitat and contributing to my longevity. The choice to use less energy is born from my inclination to improve personal circumstance, but it contributes to the welfare of others too. Selfishness and communal benefit can be inextricably linked. In this instance, though my actions are self-serving, their result is not detrimental to anyone else. My interests can align with larger community interests, and selfish acts can also have positive outcomes for those around me. Like the trees in a forest, all striving for nutrients and light, we can we focus on our individual needs and simultaneously contribute to something larger than ourselves.

Redefining some implications of selfish behavior can incite new possibilities. I can formulate goals and pursuits to benefit me in the long term without causing harm to others. If we discard the negative connotations and learn to recognize the value of some selfish behavior, we can create new incentives. I am more likely to act for the good of society if there is a tangible benefit for me as well. After all, as a human, I am biological inclined to act that way. With this in mind, we can devise creative solutions to encourage people to act selfishly, if the consequences of their actions benefit their immediate community or society at large. 

Soren RubinComment