Does “selflessness” even exist? It seems that selfishness and altruism come in an inseparable pair, and that even the most selfless acts contain, in themselves, a mode of self-interest.
Consider religion: people doing generous deeds, performing kindhearted, well-intentioned actions – but in the end, these actions are not selfless. On the contrary, they are performed very much so with the self at the center. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” reads the Bible (Luke 6:31), for example. Not “do good deeds because it’s just the right thing to do,” but “hey, you wouldn’t like to be treated like that, would you?” Even the foremost document of “selfless” acts contains selfish motives – you want to help people.
And not to speak for all, but most people of religion perform good deeds to get themselves a ticket into that great gig in the sky, do they not? These actions are not preformed out of free will or inherent goodness; they are done because of an imposed spiritual hierarchy that people seek entry into through their kind acts.
Onto selfless acts: it is not selfless to buy your girlfriend jewelry, or to, say, help a friend with an essay despite having your own work to do. The first of these acts, while thoughtful, is only done with the possibility of compensation in mind – you know what I’m talking about. Even in the second act, your “Lassie-esque” offering of help is only done so in effort to avert your own workload. In an egocentric reconciliation with your self, you conclude that helping someone else would provide you with a precious excuse to take a break from your own tedious reading.
In fact, to literally achieve full “selflessness,” one has to achieve the state of physical non-existence. But because it is, in our world, impossible to be simultaneously alive and physically non-existent, I’m afraid you won’t be able to achieve the ability to be selfless.
Those who refute what I’ve said above will be those who believe it is possible to leave your physical self, be it through meditation, spiritual transcendence or death. In any of these cases, you will still not be selfless, hard as you try. This is because being selfless requires not only a physical abandonment, but a spiritual separation. We think of ourselves in any given situation, even if through consideration for others.
For instance, last Tuesday, I saw an elderly woman take a spill on her bike – one of those “pushing the front brake too hard” doozies – and my first instinct was not to run immediately to her aid, but to think to myself, “I’m glad that wasn’t me.” When you see someone fall, you undoubtedly think something similar, whether it be “ouch,” imagining the person’s pain as your own, or “I should help her,” which has the underlying selfish connotation of “it’ll make me look good for the chicks,” or “I can put this on my grad school app!”
If you’ve made it this far and you still somehow believe you are the sole exception to my arguments – that you are the great messiah of selflessness – then you are quite clearly self-centered, and thusly not selfless. I won’t waste explaining why, because you evidently will understand, given your glorious omniscience.
There is, however, one person who would qualify as selfless given my definition, and that is myself. You see, I do not exist physically to you; I exist only on the page, as an image and a voice with no touchable embodiment. To you, I am what I write, so I should make it clear that when I buy my girlfriend jewelry, I do so with only her happiness in mind; when I help a fellow idiot with his homework, I do so only with complete attentiveness and only consider his own intellectual progress. Most importantly, I am immortal, for what I write here will forever be archived in Lower Freeborn among cobwebs, skeletons, and archaic machines. Lastly, it is not selfish for me write about myself in this paragraph because I am not really writing about myself – I’m writing about an image of myself.
If you hate this article, I’ve done my job well. It’s natural human tendency to scoff at or reject your truthful pitfalls. Luckily for you, I was selfless enough to provide you with this nugget of truth, else you’d be lost in the delusions of inherent goodness.
ZACK CROCKETT’s immortality resides in very thin paper and is therefore not liable for any damage incurred by fire, flood, or the recycling bin. E-mail him at email@example.com for consolation.