You are selfish. So am I. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s a tendency that has already been synapsed and solidified before you were born. You’ve probably heard of selfishness in a negative context, but for this Manual we will refer to it as a self-preserving adaptation and nothing more. The adaptation of selfishness makes sense: those individuals who were more focused on providing for themselves tended to survive longer.
Say you’re at a party and they serve cupcakes: one for each attendant. Your selfishness gives you the urge to immediately grab the food before anyone else and take as many as you can. You’re already familiar with this tendency and might call it “every man for himself.” Despite these natural urges, you and everyone else at the party are polite and only take one cupcake each. Your learned behavior of politeness is able to inhibit your selfish drives.
Selfishness is a Basic Function which makes it difficult to repress. Being selfless is actually as difficult as remaining abstinent or fasting; however, the more practice you get inhibiting it the easier it gets. People who are always selfless don’t have any difficulty due to the solidification of selfish inhibition over time. It gets easier every day, but you have to do it every day.
Imagine you are a struggling writer and can’t get anything published despite trying for over a year. One day, your friend runs up to you excitedly to tell you that her first submission is going to be published. She is excited and wants you to be excited too, but your thoughts are only on your own failure. This, too, is the work of selfishness.
You spend all your time with you so you form lots of synapses pertaining to your own character. When receiving the news from your friend, the solidified neurons about your attempts are easily stimulated. You will compare yourself and think of yourself as lesser. When we start to think of ourselves as lesser, we are mean. We are really mean, because nobody else is in our brains to stop us. We think hurtful thoughts about ourselves, again this is the work of selfishness.
Hearing your friend’s good news gives you the thought, “She got what I haven’t been able to get for a year.” Completion will lead you to unpack that thought to find a causality and selfishness will relate it back to you, changing your thought to, “I must suck at writing.” We are mean when there is nobody to stop us and nobody can stop you from being mean to yourself in your thoughts. It’s only when gain an outside perspective that we can get away from those spiraling negative thoughts about ourselves. Remember to take some time to refresh your perspective, solidifying hurtful thoughts is never a good idea.
Your selfishness allows you to have a conscious perspective. We start out as very basic organisms, taking in stimulus and forming synapses but it all starts from a perspective: yours. As a child, you can understand that you are hungry or you are tired. Organisms that you interact with are related to you: your parents or your friends.
As you learn and expand your perspective, you are able to rationalize that those other organisms also see themselves as the you that you do. You are just one of their friends, and they have their own parents and their own lives. An expanded perspective is a symptom of empathizing with others as it allows you to separate from your original perspective. Your ability to understand that you are distinct from other organisms is sometimes called “theory of mind.” The theory says you have the ability to see yourself as distinct from others which means your knowledge, and everyone else’s, is inherently limited.
Mastering empathy allows you to fully inhibit your selfishness. You are able to see yourself not just as the you in your story but as the they in someone else’s story. When you can empathize, you understand the role that other people want and expect you to play in their lives. You can see yourself in a broader perspective, instead of just living in your own story with your own struggles.
Go be the person to brightens up a day and trust that someone will play that role for you when you need it. You are just a single part of something so much bigger than yourself. You’re a human and you’re part of a global family, we will inhibit our selfishness for you if you are willing to do the same for us.