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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

This is the day to catch yourself being selfish:

Catch Yourself Being Selfish

Be on the lookout for selfishness—in yourself and others. Notice how often people justify their selfishness. Notice how often they object to the selfishness of others. Look closely at the role of selfishness in your life. Note how hard it is to be fair to those you have been taught to consider "evil." Note how difficult it is to identify your own unfair behavior (because the mind naturally hides what it doesn't want to face).

Day Four: Be Fair, Not Selfish

Human thinking is naturally self-serving or selfish. Selfishness is a native, not learned, human tendency (though it can be encouraged or discouraged by one's culture). Humans naturally tend to look out for "number one." Unfortunately, that often means we are unfair to persons "two" and "three."

You don't have to be selfish. It is possible to develop as a fair person and thinker. You can learn to give significant attention to the desires, needs, and rights of others. You need not "cheat yourself" to be fair.

When you think fair-mindedly, you consider the rights and needs of others as equivalent to your own. You forego the pursuit of your desires when fair play requires it. You learn how to overcome your selfishness. You learn how to step outside your point of view and into others' points of view. You value fair-mindedness as a personal characteristic worth pursuing.

Strategies for developing as a fair-minded thinker:

  1. Recognize anew, every day, that you, like every other human, are naturally self-centered—that you, like every other human, are primarily interested in how the world and everything in it can serve you. Only by bringing this idea to the forefront of your thinking can you begin to get command of your selfishness and self-centered tendencies.
  2. Be on the alert to catch yourself in the mental act of self-deception—for example, ignoring others' viewpoints. Remember that all humans engage in some self-deception. The exceptional persons are those who recognize this tendency in themselves and consistently work to take command of it.
  3. Log each time you do something selfish. Try to see past the rationalizations your mind uses to justify its self--serving behavior. Write down in detail how and when you are selfish. Then write down the point of view of those who are affected by your selfishness. Consider how you can avoid such behavior in future similar situations. You might use the following format to log your selfish episodes:
    1. Today I was selfish in the following way...
    2. My selfish (but unspoken) thinking was as follows... (Be as honest as possible. Do not allow your mind to get away with self-deception as you detail your thinking.)
    3. My selfishness affected the following person or people in the following way(s)...
    4. In the future, I can avoid being selfish or self-centered in a similar situation by thinking and behaving in the following rational ways...
  4. Take every opportunity you can to think broadly about issues that involve multiple viewpoints. Assume that your mind will tend to favor whatever perspective you hold in any given situation. Force your mind, if necessary, to consider other relevant ways of looking at the issue or situation (and to represent those viewpoints accurately, rather than in a distorted way).

Questions you can ask to foster fairness in your thinking:

  • Am I being fair to...right now?
  • Am I putting my desires ahead of the rights and needs of others? If so, what precisely am I after, and whose rights or needs am I ignoring or violating?
  • When I think about the way I live, how often do I put myself in others' shoes?
  • Do I have a selfish interest in not seeing the truth in this situation? If I face the truth, will I have to change my behavior?
  • Do I think broadly enough to be fair? How many alternative perspectives have I explored? What national, religious, political, ideological, and social points of view have I considered?
  • In what types of situations do I tend to be selfish? With my spouse? My children? My friends? At work?

"Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without in himself." —H.W. Beecher

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