Self-Centeredness: Is it a Part of Us?

There are few things in this world we can be sure of: so many questions, so many uncertainties. However, there is one thing of which we can be quite sure: man is, by nature, self-serving. Suggest this to most people, and they will counter that this is a generalization: while it may be true of some people, there are many others out there who are selfless. This response is indicative of two things: one, that the person you are talking to is deceiving themselves, and two, that the general response to being accused or even remotely associated with self-centeredness is negative.

This response says a lot about our relationship with the concept of self-centeredness. We judge this character trait based on those people we all know: the ones who only care about themselves, and disregard everyone else. Our concept of self-centeredness is, not unfairly, based on people whose self-serving nature manifests itself much more obviously. But perhaps THIS is the generalization, because our self-serving nature usually manifests itself in much more subtle ways: things like not holding the elevator, blocking the doors on the train, stepping in front of someone else to hail a cab.

This quieter form of self-centeredness is in all of us: there is nothing we can do to stop that. But what we don’t realize is, our self-serving tendencies are perfectly natural. In fact they date back to the earliest of all animal instincts: the drive to survive. Charles Darwin pioneered the idea of Survival of the Fittest: each species is in an evolutionary race with each other and themselves; those that fall behind, disappear.

This instinct of ours, the instinct to survive, is what fosters our necessary sense of self-centeredness: our instincts tell us that we cannot fall behind for any reason, even something as trivial as waiting for the next taxi. By understanding the origins of, and the need for, our self-centered nature, we can prevent it from getting the better of us; actively reminding ourselves to hold the door, waiting for the next cab, these are ways in which we can limit our self-centeredness without having unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others.

Ayn Rand reasoned that actively thinking about and doing what’s best for ourselves is ultimately good for others too, and maybe she’s right. Maybe by thinking through what’s really best for us, we can embrace our true self-serving instincts while at the same time rejecting the disregard for others that often accompanies these instincts.





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