Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

An Article That I Found Interesting on Selfishness

There was an article that caught my eye, written by Scott McKeen in yesterday's paper where he reviews the ideas represented in a new book by David Picone. It certainly makes one think and causes us to examine our relationships within our world. It echoes Ayn Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness" which I read many moons ago. While I believe in community, there are elements of self that need to be addressed. The difficulty is understanding where we should draw the line in terms of our service to self and service to our employers, country, religion, etc. What is the 'gluttonous' or 'self-serving self' versus the 'freedom of the individual' or 'survival-self'? In the end, to what extent are we our brother's keeper and what do we owe to society? How much are we truly part of society, and how much are we really alone?

Have a read and and have a good think on it! I'd be interested to hear your reflections!

Monstrous Me-First rule says being 'good' is bad

by Scott McKeen

Published August 31st, 2009 in The Edmonton Journal

Yes, life is difficult.

In tough economic times, even more difficult.

If Dr. David Picone is right, when the going gets tough, the tough get selfish. Picone advocates a survival strategy for today that puts the self over community, self over church and self over state.

It's the Me-First theory of personal happiness. And you're thinking: Isn't society's obsession with individuality already pathological?

But Picone has a point--at least to a point. He and John Hunt, both Americans, just released a book, Feeding Your Inner Monster: Tough Mind For Tough Times.

According to Picone, we are bombarded with messages from government, industry and church to be "good" people.

We're supposed to be good consumers -- please shop during a recession -- loyal employees and moral, patriotic citizens. Feelings of anger, lust or pride are repressed, instead of being seen as normal, even useful aspects of our psychological makeup.

The problem, according to Picone, comes when we subscribe to definitions of loyalty, morality or "good" that serve institutions more than us as individuals.

Picone said government actions after the 9/11 terror attacks are a good case in point. Americans raised little fuss as their government eroded civil liberties, to "fight" terrorism.

To question the government was to be perceived as bad, if not make you an outright enemy of the state. But that kind of social pressure allowed the world's greatest democracy to descend into torture.

Workplaces, too, can create a culture of subservience, on purpose or unwittingly. Follow the employee manual. Dress accordingly. Do the work this way and this way only.

Picone's message? Think for yourself. Be selfish in expressing your own views and putting your interests ahead of some prescribed standard or ideal.

But be careful. It's one thing to question the actions of institutions, be they government or corporate.

It's another thing entirely to tell the boss he's out to lunch. That might get you unemployed.

I'm also leery of how Picone's message might affect people who are already unemployed, or down and out in desperate times.

"What we're trying to say in the book is you need to pull for yourself and gather your inner strength," Picone told me in an interview.

"You need to grow independently and be able to stand on your own two feet without the need of others."

But what if the person has slipped into a dark depression? Or if they've turned to drugs, alcohol or some other addiction to fight their despair?

Strictly speaking, Picone is right in saying the only one who can save you, is you. As noted psychologist Nathaniel Branden puts it: No one is coming.

In other words, the hard work of finding a new job, beating an addiction, or overcoming loneliness begins with individual effort.

Often, the first courageous act of self preservation is to reach out for help. Seeking help is active, not passive. It is powerful, not powerless.

Picone goes further, saying we must tap into our dark side, or inner monster, to find our power. Nothing wrong with a little anger or self pride, he says, to get us motivated.

It will come as no surprise to hear that Picone is no fan of the self-help movement. But to be blunt, his is just another self-help book.

My problem with Picone's message is its placement of individual over everything else. Selfishness can quickly lead self absorption, self pity and bitterness.

Always focusing on a personal angle is guaranteed to fail. Other people and institutions simply won't always do what we want them to do.

However, if we try to focus more on the needs of our community--if we sacrifice time in service to others --we become less self-conscious and less demanding of life.

If we accept people and institutions --and ourselves -- as flawed, we tend to be calmer and happier.

It's a fine balance.

Selfish is great, if it means questioning societal beliefs and government decisions. If it means developing our own set of values.

But being overly selfish can lead to greed, loneliness and one hell of an unhappy life.

We need to think for ourselves. But at the same time, get over ourselves.

Both require action and a sense of personal power. But there is power in good, too. It can even defeat monsters.



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