Selfish vs Self-Centered

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Today’s workout: sometimes we gotta go though the video vault and dig out the gems:

If ya don’t have the tools for the last combo, improvise!!


SELFISH vs SELF-CENTERED (complete with semi-random photo selections, with the exception of Ayn Rand)

The comments from the last post brought up some good thoughts and got my noggin’ spinning…..

“Selfishness” is often linked with the word “exclusive,” as in this definition:

“…exclusive regard to one’s own interest or happiness; that supreme self-love or self-preference which leads a person to direct his purposes to the advancement of his own interest, power, or happiness, without regarding those of others.”

Now the only reason the second half of this definition exists (anything after the semi-colon) is because of the word “exclusive” in the first half. In fact, the question begging to be asked: since when did self-love and self-preference become so loathsome? I can see how self-preference can be linked to misguided, dangerous ideas of power and dominance, but let’s be simple about it. If there are two people in a room, and you are one of them, which one will you probably want to think about first? This doesn’t have to mean it is at the disregard to the other, in fact we can eventually argue the contrary.


Therefore, again, what blackens the reputation of the word “selfish” is the concept of exclusivity, that your needs are the ONLY important ones. This is contemptuously expressed in phrases like:

“Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.” – Kahlil Gabrin


“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” – Martin Luther King

Even MLK mentions ‘destructive selfishness.’ He was a fine man of words and wouldn’t give in to erroneous redundancy (In re-reading this I have to ask: is ‘erroneous redundancy’ itself redundant? Is there such a thing as strongly relevant redundancy?). Therefore, perhaps he is offering that there is a non-destructive selfishness that exists, maybe examined by the Bard himself, whose plays are often overrun with selfish behaviors, when he writes “to thine own self be true.” (actually: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

So what is Ayn Rand saying when she states: “Love is an expression and assertion of self-esteem, a response to one’s own values in the person of another. One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one’s own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and derives from love.”


According to Ration View, she meant this:

Selfishness, or rational self-interest, is the ethics of the Objectivist philosophy. To be “selfish,” according to the Oxford Modern English Dictionary, means to be “concerned chiefly with one’s own interest.” Notice that the definition contains no ethical evaluation, either positive or negative.

Ayn Rand chose the word “selfish” because it most closely denotes the concept of living for one’s own sake rather than living primarily for the sake of others. No other word quite captures that idea.

The fact that most people think that being selfish means harming one’s fellow man, that pursuing one’s own self-interest equates to behaving brutally or irrationally, is, as Ms. Rand noted, a “psychological confession” on their part. In fact it is against one’s own long-term self-interest to behave irrationally or trample others. Such actions are the exact opposite of selfish–they’re self-destructive.

Although I’ve not the Oxford dictionary in front of me, the several I DO have do not leave us hanging with “concerned chiefly with one’s own interest” without following it up with “at the exclusion of others,” and that suddenly makes Rand’s entire concept moot. If we hold onto the concept of exclusion within our concept of Selfishness, then everything in Zac’s comments yesterday were correct, and sort of negates my more ‘Objectivist’ use of the word (an irony being that the Objectivists apparently subjectively redefine words).


I shall, therefor, restate that fitness is a self-centered endeavor. Now even though this dodges the ‘exclusionary’ bullet, there will be a handful of folks who still throw rocks, still finding stigma in that word as well, as if anything related inward is bad, and we’re all supposed to be cosmos-hugging altruists 24/7. But, after squeezing the eyes shut and then opening them again a little wider, we can see that ‘self-centered’ is actually where we need to spend a great deal of time. In fact, we are only safe to be others-centered if we’re pretty aware of our own creamy middle.


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  • Craig B.

    “If there are two people in a room, and you are one of them, which one will you probably want to think about first?”

    Um, if she’s attractive and smells nice, I know which one I will be thinking about. But that’s just me.

    “I`m on the chopping block
    Chopping off my stopping thought
    Self doubt and selfism
    Were the cheapest things I ever bought”
    —echo & the bunnymen

    I do believe we must keep, as they say, our own house in order to be productive and useful to others.

  • chip

    But you’re thinking of said hottie in the room because you are truly thinking of yourself… or at least from parts of yourself. The dumbstick, like the stegosauruses second brain in its rump, hasn’t the IQ of the more productive, higher brain, but it’s “selfish” desires sure can override our otherwise (supposedly) rational self.

  • Stephen

    I am admittedly “self-centered” when it comes to fitness. I am wholly unapologetic about it – particularly when I observe the daily pursuits and lifestyles of most people I encounter. For me, “fitness,” “movement,” or “exercise” is more than a casual preoccupation, and even more than a “value.” It’s an extraordinary “need” I have had since I was old enough to crawl. And, it’s something that demands almost nothing of anyone else. I’ve also noticed I’m of better use to those around me when I’m meeting my most basic, simple needs.

  • Craig

    Obvious! But in a sense, it is a mirror of other actions/causes, drives or driven. In part what we do is self-centered: in part it is driven by an idea of the Beloved: perhaps actually, perhaps ideally- nonetheless, the Self reaching out to the Other, be it for reasons petty and/or Divine…

    Maybe I’ve been reading too much Sufi and Buddhist texts this week?

    Stephen- I realized this consciously only a few years ago- I am not functional at all without serious movement, and lots of it. My mention on Mondays post of mood stabilizers was actually dead serious. I very much though there was something actually wrong with me, until I got active again & started eating real food. I’m no fun to be around when I’m like that.

  • Chris

    quoting Chip – . But, after squeezing the eyes shut and then opening them again a little wider, we can see that ’self-centered’ is actually where we need to spend a great deal of time. In fact, we are only safe to be others-centered if we’re pretty aware of our own creamy middle.

    I would agree being self centered at times has it place in our personal growth. We need to study ourselves before we can study others. It all starts with the self. We all use different tools to look at ones self. Years ago when I was younger I did some grateful dead touring. I drank natural mescaline from a cactus to hallucinate. This was a self centered act. Today I do the same thing, but via weight training. I stare down my soul as I lift a weight, or do a ridiculous amount of burpees . Sure it is self centered, but with benefits I can hopefully share with others outside the gym. It stimulates my thinking, become a more productive citizen.
    Chips question in mind raises a big question. Am I missing something that is much bigger then the proven benefits of “excersice”? Others may use meditation as a self centered act. In the end I think people would agree that the self act translates into bigger things once they have completed the act.
    Without self you have no self centered, without self you have no community, without community you have no tribe. So it all starts with self.
    I would strive to keep the negative away from this word.

  • kk

    Well said, Chris.
    To use the analogy of a crashing airplane:
    you gotta put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else. Gasping for air, you’re no good to anyone.
    Same thing with life and what constitutes our own survival and well being.

  • Dan

    Self centred or selfish can be confused with egocentric or narcissistic. Egocentricity is actually a person who has a weak or unformed ego and actually believes that the world outside themselves in a sense is themselves. They are undifferentiated. They might imagine that the world revolves around them or that their thoughts actually change things, that clouds follow them or every room full of people is looking at them.

    If we ill define ego and label it to be bad then any activity we pursue seems to be selfish. Ego being the vehicle we use in the manifest world can’t be wrong. When we are stuck in development at egocentricity and unable to take anothers perspective then we have more trouble.

    Bodytribe clearly aims to transcend egocentric status with an ethnocentric focus (tribe) and as the tribe can relate and consider other tribes views (not pluralistically accept regardless of context) then a worldcentric view can be reached, something that Chip clearly refers to.

    Much thinking today is pluralistic where everyone is right, no one is wrong everyone has a point and when there is no differentiation of more or less usefulness in context (training methodology is a good example) then no one is ALLOWED to focus on themselves or be better or worse than anyone else.

    There is and can not be any act that you perform that does not firstly :

    1. Involve you
    2. Be of some consequence to you or not
    3. Be of some betterment to your experience positively or negatively.

    Being selfless does not mean having no self.

    Being selfless means allowing your radiant sense of developed and attended to self step into the world and be a focal point, a referent for others to engage with.

    As we develop through stages we simply can not throw out the stage of development below it or turn around from a lofty new height and declare it now wrong because the level we are now at fundamentally emerged from the stage below.

    Having been selfish all the time, I grow to being able to be selfish and also unselfish. I don’t stamp out all vestiges of selfishness unless I want to stamp out some of myself.

    Train, eat, love, fight, survive, love, share, cry, laugh, lose, train, eat, learn, grow.

    Great posts.


  • jane when i order coffee

    then what of tribe? what else is going on?
    (ps: a good welcome-back present, if you’re looking, would be a neck loop with a swivel from here–
    i can hang from my head!)

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