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Self-centred as compared to selfish

The Fringe Dweller's Guide to the Universe

Self-centred as compared to selfish

the queen

In keeping with this series of articles, let me do a quick comparison of terms. What I’m talking about here is one’s "locus of attention," – the place the person "lives." Before I move to the two above, let me also indicate that my main usage of the term self-centred is meant to differentiate it from "other-centred."

There’s a reason for thinking about this – and the selfish part comes into play in our programming as children. So, let’s define the three terms:

Self-centred: "I like ice cream, I have a quart of Chunky Monkey™, and I’m going to have some now, as I love it. Would you like some too?"

Other-centred: "I like ice cream, but I know you like it more. There’s not much Cherry Garcia™ left, so you take all of it."

Selfish: "I like ice cream, and not only am I going to eat my Vanilla HEATH® Bar Crunch Ice Cream, I want yours, too."

Now, within the realm of conditioning children to fit into society, most parents are pretty ruthless in trying to eradicate selfishness. I suspect that because we simply stop our kids (or try to) from doing what they please with whatever they can get their hands on, we’ve created a couple of generations of people who see as their life’s mission to make up for lost time. We have multitudes of adults running around grabbing a hold of anything that isn’t nailed down, and using crow bars on the things that are.

Often, such people are the ultimate capitalists. "I want, I deserve it all" is their motto. This was crystallized in the 80’s in the mantra, "You can have anything you want." And of course, there’s a paradox here. There is enough. For everyone. The problem with selfishness is, the selfish person doesn’t know when they have enough. Not being satisfied with one dish of Triple Caramel Chunk™, they want a truck full.

(And yes, I LOVE Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream!!!)

Now, of course, the cosmos is not kind to those who move beyond being self-centred to being greedy and selfish. Things slow down. Like the stock market, for example. The creed of the 90’s became, "You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want."

That was a major counselling issue in the mid-90’s – people would come in and want to excel in their career, have perfect children and an excellent marriage, and still have time to be a scratch golfer. They had amazing trouble grasping the difficulty involved in making even one of these things happen, but because they’d been brought up in a culture obsessed with having and doing everything, they felt incredibly hard done by.

Now, in the (Wait! What do we call this decade? The double zeros?) present decade, the rule seems to be, "You can’t have everything you want, and maybe you can’t have anything you want." Payback time, I guess you’d call it.

Thus, many are making the move to finding internal strength and meeting internal needs. Self-centred. Because, as I often ask,

where else would I want my centre to be?

Now, most people can use entitlement language without blushing, so long as it’s generalized. This, again, goes back to our upbringing. Most people agree that "people should be successful," or "we’re entitled to a bigger house or a larger salary," or whatever. It gets more interesting when it’s personal. What we do then depends on our parenting and our adult choices.

Parents don’t want us to be selfish, which is the expectation that "I deserve whatever I want." People who do not overcome selfishness, as we’ve said, want more of the pie than their fair share. But perhaps more importantly, they want others to provide the extra pie. Not only are they focused on their own needs and wants, they expect the people around them to actively participate in their wants and needs. They consider themselves the sun, and everyone else is merely a planet circling around.

I remember, some years ago, working with a client who, in the first session, told it that it was my job to see that she didn’t commit suicide. Her friends had been doing that for years, and now she decided she needed to involve a professional to keep her alive. When I stopped laughing, I told her that we’d be working on her looking after her own life – if she didn’t want to do that, she could find another therapist. She was horrified. This was the first time in her entire life that someone wasn’t willing to by manipulated or guilted into put her needs ahead of their own. After two years of therapy she quit – saying that she couldn’t continue to work with a therapist who wanted her to stand on her own two feet, without involving others.

Most relationship struggles are all about this. About who is right. About which way of doing things is "right." About who has control – who’s in charge. It’s a battle of the selfish for attention and for dominance.

Now, the other (dysfunctional) way this can go is that people are trained not to be selfish by being forced to put the needs of others first. Their life is one trial after another, as they chase their tails trying to be and do what another person wants.

My mom was good at trying this one on me. You’d have thought that over the decades she’d have learned that I am always willing to do what I wanted to do, and was very willing to listen to her, but I wasn’t going to do something just because she asked.

Once, out of the blue, a few months before she died, she looked at me and said, "When are you going to find a church?" Now, mom and dad had been really supportive when I got turfed out of the church, and had stopped attending when Dar and I did. But she’d loved defining herself as "the Minister’s mother," and her agenda leaked out.

Now, if my way of being had been towards selfishness, I might have said, "Don’t you realize that if you were a good mother, you’d never mention that and you’d do things to make me feel better?" If I was into people pleasing (other-centred) I’d have said, "You’re right, mom. I’ll go out and find a church right away. And while I’m at it, is there anything else I can do for you? Yell at the staff? Fluff your pillow? Make dad do what you want? Please, tell me!"

What I did say was, "Why? Is one missing?" She laughed, said, "Yeah, I guess that’s not going to happen, eh?" I just smiled.

We’re not here to be running around doing what other people want us to do. For all you folk that think you’re being a bad kid for not being obedient, it’s time to grow up and be a self-centred adult.

Because being self-centred is all about growing up and standing on our own two feet. We choose to be with others, to share, to interact, but not out of neediness or the need to be in control. We choose to be alone because we know that, in the end, we nourish ourselves. We choose to focus our attention on our vocations, because we are called to be of service. Our expectation is not to have everything we want, but to be everything that we are. Nothing, not parents, spouses, kids, takes precedence over our need to know ourselves through inter-relatedness and introspection.

This is not selfishness nor self-absorption (see item 4, above). This is living the quest for self-knowledge and self-responsibility. From that place, I may choose to be of service, but it will be by choice, not from guilt. My life will be lived knowing who I am and whom I choose to hang around with, and why. My actions will be from desire not obligation. In other words, my actions, and my hands will be clean. I will not be engaged in activities I torture myself over (see last week’s article.)

This week, think about your motivations, and the location of your centre. If you’ve stuck it out there, somewhere, draw it back in. If you think others should care about your needs, get over yourself. Clean up your walk.

You’ll find yourself to be much lighter.


A Moment's Humour

A friend sent me this. I thought it was great!


  • If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days, you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee. (Hardly seems worth it.)
  • A pig's orgasm lasts for 30 minutes. (In my next life I want to be a pig.) (How'd they figure this out, and why?)
  • Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour. (Still can't get over that pig thing.) (Don't try this at home...maybe at work?)
  • Humans and dolphins are the only species that have sex for pleasure. (Is that why Flipper was always smiling?) (And pigs get 30-minute orgasms? Doesn't seem fair.)
  • Right-handed people live, on average, nine years longer than left-handed people do. (If you're ambidextrous do you split the difference?)
  • The ant can lift 50 times its own weight, can pull 30 times its own weight and always falls over on its right side when intoxicated. (From drinking little bottles of...?) (Did taxpayers pay for this research??)
  • Polar bears are left handed. (Who knew....? Who cares? How'd they find out, ask them?)
  • The catfish has over 27,000 taste buds. (What can be so tasty on the bottom of the pond?)
  • The flea can jump 350 times its body length. It's like a human jumping the length of a football field. (30 minutes...can you imagine?? And why pigs?)
  • A cockroach will live nine days without it's head, before it starves to death. (Creepy) (You've got to wonder about the sick sadist who found this out.)
  • The male praying mantis cannot copulate while its head is attached to its body. The female initiates sex by ripping the male's head off. (Honey, I'm home. What the....) (Well, at least pigs get a break there...)
  • Some lions mate over 50 times a day. (In my next life I still want to be a pig...quality over quantity.)
  • Butterflies taste with their feet. (Oh, geez) (That's almost as bad as catfish.)
  • An ostrich's eye is bigger than it's brain. (I know some people like that.)
  • Starfish don't have brains. (I know some people like that too.)
  • After reading all these, all I can say is.......Lucky Pigs!



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