Finding Compassion Through Selfishness | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Finding Compassion Through Selfishness

There’s a part of me that doesn’t care about you.  It’s not here to solve your problems, lend you an ear, or serve you in any other way.  It looks out for me and me alone.

Isn’t that a terrible thing? Actually, I don’t think so.  In fact, I think acknowledging I have a “selfish” part — and, sometimes, doing what that part wants — is key to experiencing, and expressing, real compassion for people.

I Used To Be Such A Sweet, Sweet Thing

I used to act really nurturing and giving, all the time.  Whenever someone had a request or a problem, I was the first to volunteer my time and energy.  I can practically hear Alice Cooper now:  “I opened doors for little old ladies,” and so on.

But I eventually had a couple of disturbing realizations.  The first was that I expected praise for service I did, and felt upset when I didn’t get it.  Why would I care about receiving praise, I wondered, if I genuinely liked helping others?

Second, if someone — heaven forbid — criticized me in a way that suggested I was selfish, I got even angrier.  I couldn’t help but ask:  if I’m really such a 24-7 generous guy, why does it bother me when someone says I’m not?

Acting Caring Vs. Being Caring

Finally, it dawned on me that, at least sometimes, I wasn’t helping people because I enjoyed service.  Instead, I was doing it because I wanted to show people I wasn’t self-centered.  In other words, I did it because I didn’t want to experience the shame I felt when someone called me selfish.

I started wondering:  what if, on some level, I actually am selfish?  What would happen if I learned that there is, in fact, a part of me that thinks only of my wants?  Would I explode, implode, or be annihilated in some other messy way?  Probably not.

I noticed my body relaxed, and I sighed with relief, when I asked questions like these.  It was as if, to put on a benevolent mask for the world, I had to tighten some part of my body, and use up energy keeping that part tense.  Dropping the mask freed up that energy, and was a big relief.

I also saw that, the more relaxed I felt, the more I experienced real gratitude.  Life, I found, is more fun when I’m not trying to appease someone or protect myself from criticism.  From that genuinely grateful place, compassion for others comes more naturally.

In other words, interestingly enough, admitting there’s a part of me that doesn’t care actually releases and nourishes the part that does.

Everybody Is Everything

Why?  I think about it this way:  each person is like a prism – an object that breaks up a beam of light into the colors of the rainbow.  The colors represent every human character trait:  compassion, selfishness, love, anger, sadness, and so on.

Often, we decide we don’t like one of the colors — perhaps we’d rather not be blue (sad), red (angry), or something else.  So, we cover up the prism to keep others from seeing that color.  The trouble is that, when we block the prism, none of the colors can be seen — no part of us can be fully expressed in the world.

When I try to hide my “self-centered” part, it’s like I’m covering up my prism — “hiding my light under a bushel,” as the saying goes.  The result is that I can’t really bring my generous part into the world either.  If I want my compassion to fully show up, I need to let my selfishness make an appearance too.

With That, Some Gratitude

I want to thank two generous and, undoubtedly, totally unselfish souls for the gifts they gave me.  :)  Evita Ochel and Patricia Hamilton recently wrote warm and wonderful reviews of my audio course.  I hope you’ll check out their sites and enjoy what they bring to the world.

9 thoughts on
Finding Compassion Through Selfishness

  1. Angie

    I think it takes a lot of courage to post your true thoughts like this, you will help many by sharing this. It is not always easy to recognize and admit that you were not being fully yourself when you were doing these kind acts for others, and that there were some expectations attached. I think being on the defensive is a usually a sign that something is out of sink… the fact that you are aware of your feelings and have the confidence enough to say hey I am not always going to be Mr Nice Guy is a great step in the right direction!
    Since when did ‘selfish’ become a bad word? Nourishing ourselves is essential if we are to be of service to others. Many of us ‘givers’ forget to nourish ourselves- easy to give advice, not so easy to see it in ourselves and apply it. Hurry for you that you are living your authentic self!

  2. Evelyn Lim

    Having self care is different from being selfish. I think it is an important distinction that many of us do not realize. There is nothing wrong with wanting to take care of our own needs. However, we also need to have regard for others and do things for the higher good of all.

  3. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — It sounds like you’re saying that, ideally, we would have concern for both ourselves and others. In my experience, I reach that balance I think you’re talking about — of taking my own needs and those of others into account — when I’m willing to admit to myself that I have a part that is self-interested, instead of denying it’s there or trying to prove it doesn’t exist. The best thing about this is that compassion for others seems to arise naturally when I acknowledge that I have “light” and “dark” sides, as opposed to denying the darkness.

  4. Lance

    Chris,
    I have self-centered moments. I have moments where I’m angry.

    And I think – even if we try to cover them up, the only one we’re sometimes hiding these from are ourselves. (and I have certainly tried to cover up these parts of me…)

    Perhaps it is about being more transparent – and showing our true colors… And in that, also just being cognizant of who we are, and who we are becoming…

  5. Chris - Post author

    Hi Angie — yeah, I definitely get what you say about defensiveness being a sign that there’s some part of ourselves we don’t want others to see. Like you say, I think that’s what authenticity is really about — letting down the barriers we put up to protect ourselves from being seen, particularly when it comes to parts of us that are aggressive or otherwise “dark” — energies that we don’t often see expressed in the personal development blogosphere.

  6. Sara

    Chris — As usual, you’ve written a rather thought-provoking post. I think tit’s very important to accept the dualities of our personalities and that’s unhealthy to hide from them or pretend they don’t exist. We all have selfish moments, angry times and times when we do something for the wrong reasons. It’s how we handle these times that matters to me. Whether or not, we can accept them AND move on without letting them control us.

    This makes me think of the coaching term, gremlins. In this concept, I don’t ever totally get rid of my gremlins, whatever they might be because they are a part of me. What I can do is learn how to live with them, even accept them. Because by not fighting them, I can open space and energy to be able to move in more positive directions in my life.

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Lance — I liked the clarity and simplicity of that when you said you have moments when you feel angry or self-centered — I think it would be very refreshing if we were all able to just admit that we have these feelings to each other when they come up, as opposed to using up all this energy and building up all this resentment pretending that we always want to be “good,” altruistic, compassionate and so on. Even if we don’t act on them, just admitting these feelings just seems a lot healthier to me.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — I like that way of putting it — that we don’t need to always act on every feeling or impulse we have, but pretending that we’re “good” people who never have “wrong” feelings doesn’t serve us. Yeah, my sense is that calling any part of us “gremlins” is really just a way of pretending that part of ourselves doesn’t belong to us, and is the enemy, and that life is easier when we don’t pretend in that way.

  9. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I came yesterday and got frozen out after leaving my comment & I see it didn’t take it through .. and I couldn’t copy it – I tried!! .. Hate it when you make the effort to write something salient and then it gets “whhoooshhhed” into thin air .. never to be seen again!

    I think what I was saying .. was most people don’t think that they’re being selfish .. they don’t worry about the other side of the thought process .. they’re thinking their side and that particular aspect .. not the effect it will have on others.

    When I talk to someone .. I try and put myself in their position, or if I see they’re busy and pre-occupied I just leave it for the time being .. people don’t evaluate that moment before jumping in with two feet.

    I often say this has just happened .. and I did that – but I’m so cross and by saying it out loud .. I get it out & am not bottling it, also others can see my point of view ..

    Wouldn’t it be luverley if we were all purffect .. not for me! But thoughtfulness for others would be a good start .. Thanks .. now I’m going to read your fiction and lighten up .. Hilary

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