Selfishness, Selflessness, and Equity


e might think of the interactions between sentient beings falling on a continuum. At one end of the continuum is self-sacrifice, where the interests of other beings are forwarded at the expense of one’s own interests. At the other end of the continuum is predation, where one’s one interests are forwarded at the expense of the interests of other beings. Smack in the center of the continuum is equity, where a balance is sought between one’s own interests and the interests of others.

Behavior Continuum

Self-sacrifice Intentionally allowing harm to befall oneself in order to benefit others.
Selflessness Putting the needs of others first without regard to one’s own interests, but not intentionally allowing harm to befall oneself.
Equity Seeking a more-or-less exact balance between one’s own interests and the interests of others. Reciprocation.
Selfishness Putting the needs of oneself first without regard to the interests of others, but not intentionally hurting them.
Predation Intentionally harming others for gain, with no regard for the interests of those sacrificed. Includes cruelty, which is deliberately inflicting pain on others for one’s own pleasure.

Most of the time we aim for equity, but our behaviors will slide up and down this scale depending on circumstances, from self-sacrifice to equity and even, on occasion, to selfishness. However, we must never allow ourselves to prey upon others. And we must also never allow others to prey upon us.

If we’re aiming for equity, shouldn’t we spend 50% of our time serving ourselves and 50% serving others? In the next section, we shall look at why the answer to that question is no.

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 Posted by on February 23, 2012
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