Do you have to be selfish before you can be selfless? I saw this question recently on a friend’s Facebook wall and got me wondering. Is that true? In the end, I realized I very much disagree. As the great late Zig Ziglar would say “You can have anything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.”

To which my friend responded promptly within the hour – “I look at it as when you’re on an airplane. They tell you to put your face mask on first because if you don’t have air you can’t help those around you. So in an instance, you have to be selfish about your own life before you can be selfless to those around you.”

I very much share the sentiment that someone with $10,000 can feed more people in need than the begger with $10 to his name. That said if the rich man donates $10,000 because he wants to see his name on a plaque isn’t that gift done out of selfishness while the begger who gives just $1 out of the goodness of his heart the selfless giver?
Selfish Vs. Selfless: They are a value statement (and attitude) much more than an action.
I think to say you are either selfish or selfless is a false spectrum. I’m not sure the word I have for it – but the thing that comes to mind is “self-wellness”.

Is it selfish for a high school student to attend school and become a doctor or lawyer? If he wants to become rich – or he wants to cure people of diseases – does it really change the fact they put in long hours getting their schooling done?

If someone wants to become a lawyer they must (as you’d say selfishly) study hard and put off immediate gratification of partying with friends. But is that selfish or selfless? Is it selfless knowing you want to become a medical provider saving lives – and now you must put on your own mask of studies so that someday you can act out the benefit of your studies?

Perhaps I’d equate selfish and selfless to something more like “angry and happy” or “content and discontent”.

Before you can be content, you must be discontent with your situation.
Before you can be happy, you must be angry enough to take action to move to somewhere you feel happy.

Using the college student example – must the college student be angry or discontent in their studies to achieve success? Must they bemoan and whine about their studies or is it possible they actually espouse some level of positivity out of their sense of purpose?

To say you cannot be selfless until you are selfish, at least to my perspective, seems like a very limited view of the world. You can be generous and selfless in so many ways – in your tone of voice – in your opening of the door for the person who seems in a rush behind you – by not honking that horn on the way to work – by the way you greet your kids when you get home from work.

You can be selfless without costing you a single extra penny or second of time – and I’d generally guess that it’s this “selfless” person who is more likely to secure relationships and expand their professional network the fastest.

As they say – your network is your net worth. So, if your goal is to help people through financial abundance you might want to consider selflessness or at a minimum avoiding selfishness.

That said – self-health is a very real thing and necessary to ensure your ability to help others. So don’t think you need to be a martyr – but far more often I see people (and myself included) leaning towards conservative in nature rather than freely giving to others. It’s human nature to take care of yourself – but it’s wisdom that tells when it’s time to open up your hand and give to others. A journey I will never stop walking.

Am I overreacting or splitting hairs? Let me know in the comments below or on social media.