Thursday, September 30, 2004

Selfless Self-Actualization?

Evelyn Rodriguez crafted an eloquent and critical response to my self-conscious self-analysis about the potential selfishness of self-actualization. It's inspiring and thoughtful and I encourage you to read the whole thing...but here's a quick quote:
"Self-actualization is ultimately not selfish, it's selfless. It's not about what you 'want', it's about becoming who you are and expressing that - not shrinking away from it. "Successful" people may or may not be self-actualized - they are not necessarily correlated. Self-actualization isn't about external success."

4 comments:

Brian said...

Hi Jeremy,

Very interesting ideas and I continue to enjoy your weblog. I can see the point being made by Evelyn and wouldn't debate it (in fact, I don't like debating anyway), but I'm not sure we need to be so concerned with creating an apparent duality between selfishness and selflessness, wanting and becoming, inner success and external success. If the we seek unity rather than uniformity, then dualities like these begin to fade away. Just a probe.

Best regards,
Brian

Jeremy said...

Pretty deep, Brian. And unity is a worthy goal, I think. My initial off-the-cuff commentary was actually more about how this idea of lifestylism is probably too easily/closely associated with materialism and consumerism, or even greed and narcissism. It was a shallow concern...the label is irrelevant, and I like the ideas that keep popping out of this project.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Liz said...

Just to throw another wrench in the works, as I understand "self", it is impossible to be selfless. According to Merriam-Webster, self is: the entire person of an individual; the union of elements (as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person.

The only way to become selfless would be to die as far as I can see.

I believe that we have become very lazy in our use of the language. We use the word selfish when what we really mean is self-centered or self-absorbed. Look at the MW definition of -ish: of, relating to, or being; characteristic of.

So to be self-ish means to be like your self. To be self-ish means to be authentic, without masks, without pretending to be something that you aren't.

So I guess I'm agreeing with Evelyn in that self-actualization is not being self-centered, but agreeing with you that it is self-ish. Being selfless is impossible, but being selfishly self-actualized serves the world because it means you are more authentic and connected to life, community and the world in more meaningful ways. It is from authenticity that true service and compassion spring.

Aren't semantics wonderful? LOL

Jeremy said...

Agreed, Liz. I didn't disagree with Evelyn either, but she didn't seem too thrilled with my use of the words.

I included a blurb in the original post that seems to explain my take on it, but maybe it just muddles it further:

"But I also keep coming back to the concept of values, and I believe that what people really value also has the potential for positive impact in the world. The cynic in me sees everyone stepping on everyone else to get ahead...the optimist sees that when people are actually living in synch with their core values, they do good things and care about the needs of others."