Devoted to or caring for only oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare... regardless of others.
My italics. The last three words bring you up short. They are unapologetic: Me first, not you. Definitely not you. Not anyone. You need not look far to find opinions on how self-interest got us to where we are today and selfishness is making matters worse. Rightish churches and leftish politicians wring hands, write columns and tweet furiously about it. Adam Smith and The Wealth Of Nations is claimed by all sides (just pop his name into twitter). Instant communication and massive shifts in the way we see ourselves and the world make for interesting theses, even in 140 characters.
No more than an interested observer and occasional ranter when it comes to politics, I am better informed on human behaviour. And selfishness is an essential trait: in fact in the modern uber-connected world it can be your saviour.
Those watching the rejigged Attenborough's Africa on Monday evening saw the Shoe Bill family- maw, paw and the bigger wean- assaulting, starving and casting out the smaller, weaker chick. Not needed now. Two is one too many. A big risk, wee man. Bye bye birdy. Tennyson's description of nature as "red in tooth and claw" was never more apt. Protecting yourself by being selfish, even if it is difficult, is essential especially when the chips are down and is easier than knocking off a scruffy sibling for catfish.
My dad is ill and a bit of a handful for all of us, especially mum. When he had a few days in hospital I said she should get plenty sleep, chill out, visit friends, go shopping and do all the things not possible when dad is around. All a no-brainer, but she finds it hard and her life continued to revolve around the man she has loved for over 50 years. There is almost no time between afternoon and evening visiting once travel is factored.
How should she be selfish? Well, let's be specific: Forget about dad when he is away and in good hands; do not call everyone as soon as the consultant updates; do not call anyone, because your phone is off; do not pick up when the one in the hall rings; tell people not to visit you; and have a gin and tonic and a packet of tomato crisps during Bargain Hunt, leaving afternoon visiting to the kids.
The hospital staff were brilliant with dad, who can be a handful. His bed was at the ward entrance and I would notice nurses finishing a shift. It seemed that going through the double doors was a way to leave the smells and sights and sounds behind. And the caring too. To go out and get some me time. Selfish? You bet. But you can bet it keeps you sane and helps when you need to throw the duvet back in the morning, or the afternoon, or the evening. Anyone who remembers Nurses Night at Cleopatra's in Glasgow's west end (last Thursday of the month) will attest to the ability of the caring profession to leave the hospital and its woes behind for a good time.
When the heat is on in any area of your life the temptation can be to run around like a dervish. To strain every sinew and shred every nerve. To show the world (and maybe yourself) that you are one of the good guys. If that feeling kicks in stop, think, and don't knock selfishness. Mum is taking more mum-time every day, so buy shares in Diageo. She is realising the people you love most in the world need your best when the shit hits the fan.
And it does, my friends, it does.
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about the author
Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.