In fact, it’s totally, completely necessary. You are the only person you have to live with every second of your life! If you aren’t self-centered, how can you be centered?
There are a lot of myths out there about how some people are just “selfless;” how they were / are great because they have gotten past their ego, to a level of giving and sacrifice that “normal” humans don’t or can’t usually attain. Some people say we should all strive to be more like these “selfless saints.”
But what is being forgotten here is that these “saints” are actually not at all free of ego. Their ego is quite present, especially if we are talking about well-known leaders who [necessarily] command people’s attention wherever they go. They are merely able to harmonize their ego and its wants and needs with their interaction with the outside world.
Take Jesus Christ, for example. According to the Biblical story (regardless of whether you believe in it), Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross because, as much as it put him through sheer agony, he was happier to (1) do his Father’s bidding, and (2) to set an example to help heal the shame caused by sin, and thus to help people find the love-strength needed to pick themselves up and stop living lives of vice and decadence.
Here, Jesus had a self-want. He had a desire that was his – for God the father gave him free will, as with all other humans, according to Biblical scripture. Thus at the same time as Jesus was doing something very altruistic and selfless, it also made him feel better to do it, and thus was self-satisfying. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Our whole behavior is motivated by what makes us happy. Even the best of us. Some of us just learn more enlightened, deeper ways to meet our needs for happiness and satisfaction than others do.
Living a fulfilled life requires a balance between service to oneself and service to others. You don’t want to be other people’s servant all the time because then you can become invisible, and when you need something, it can actually feel disruptive to other people! (like “what?? Giver X needs something??”) And of course, in a perfect world we’d all be giving and people would look out for each other and have balanced relationships… but that’s not how things work in modern society. If you want to be a good giver, be above all a good giver to yourself. If you over-devote yourself and lose who “you” are, then it gets to the point where you have less and less “you” to devote to the other people! And then they respect you less.
Then there’s “don’t be a jerk.” The exhortation to get out of your own head and consider those around you. Problem is, even when people understand that mutual respect is important, they often apply it in an extremely narrow fashion: “do one significant thing that this other person likes, and I’m good; I’ve done my giving for the day.” This sort of you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours type of thinking may be good enough for the business world; however, the more intimate a relationship you are trying to forge, the shallower this looks. People can smell you trying to mean something, as opposed to just honestly meaning it. Being giving in spirit is not a one-time deal.
Very often, the missing piece is that people are not listening to themselves enough. And guess what? Listening to yourself… is a self-centered activity. Very often, if you both know yourself well (from having listened to yourself a lot) and are listening to those around you, you will find these awesome moments; moments where something that may not be so obvious, feels right for both you and those around you. And then, when you bring it out in the open, people rejoice. Double score!
So go ahead and be self-centered – in the right way. You will ultimately realize, the more you listen, that your selfish interests and your desires for others to be happy pretty much always meet in the middle somehow! You just have to get the yinyang right, that’s the secret! That’s how those we think of as heroes do it, whether they are internationally-known figures, or people we know and love. 🙂