Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Myth of Selflessness, or Why Selfishness is Good for You

People tout the works of those who do things altruistically, or selflessly. Doing things for others without expecting anything in return is something respectable, admirable. It can give you a good, warm feeling inside. I am here to break it to you that there are very few truly “selfless” acts. And that, contrary to popular belief, this is not a bad thing.

The word “selfish” has a very negative connotation practically glued to it, with flashing lights and a siren. A selfish person thinks only of themselves to the exclusion of others, doing things they shouldn’t or wouldn’t had they thought of others’ feelings and reactions. This is on some parts deserved. At the same time, it is undeserved. Being "selfish" is healthy, when applied in the correct circumstances. Allow me to explain.

When you perform a “selfless” act, there is something you generally get out of it, even if it is simply the satisfaction of having helped someone or having done something you didn’t have to but that bettered someone else. This is great! Some people question if they’re doing things for others simply because it makes themselves feel good. Short answer: yes. Long answer: No, not really, it’s more complicated than that. You care about these people to some extent, or this cause, or you are troubled by an event, the list goes on and on. You have some motivation. But without the return feeling, it becomes unhealthy. Using WoW, I will now detail what I mean.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you are the main tank in a small guild. You are the best geared tank and so therefore many people want you to help them run five-mans, both heroic and normal, and are always called on when a Kara group is thrown together. You are a tank, you like tanking, so you readily agree. You’re so well-geared that these five-mans give you nothing, but you want to help your guildies. It gives you a sense of satisfaction, a warm glow. You’re the best tank in your guild. Everyone wants you, needs you, for their instances. You feel great! This is considered a “selfless act.” You don’t know these people too well, or maybe you do, it doesn’t matter. You like the thrill of being helpful.

Now, let’s fast-forward. Guildies are still asking you for runs. They’ve become over-confident, running here and there and becoming lax and lazy during the runs. Your repair bills mount because they pull stupid stunts. Your epic mount is farther and farther away. You lose the happy feeling and instead start to feel like a babysitter, ushering people through instances who simply smile and fool around while they wait for you to make the epics fall in their laps. You begin to feel used, worn out, and exhausted. You are no longer getting anything, either satisfaction, loot, or happiness from these runs. That’s right, you are now doing these runs with a hope of nothing in return. You have become truly “selfless.”

Does that second scenario seem familiar? Does it sound like that tank is about to burn out and blow up in disgust at his or her guildies and their runs? But that’s selfless! That’s the epitomy of selfless. The action is being done with no hope of anything in return. Selfless means “without self.” Does that sound optimal?

When you get nothing out of something, you begin to burn out. There’s no return. When you give and give and receive nothing back, you are “emptying” yourself of energy without reciprocation you burn out.

Being moderately selfish is better for you in the long run. And it is not bad. It is not evil to think “I won’t have fun, I don’t need this and I don’t want to do it,” and based on that decide not to. It’s healthy!

When I talk about selfishness, I want to make it clear. I mean benign selfishness, that which does not slight or hurt others overtly. I am not advocating ninjaing loot or stonewalling guildies. I do not mean you should demand compensation for what you are doing for other people. I am saying examine your reasons for doing something. Are you doing it because you want to? Or are you feeling pressured, guilted or pulled into it?


Anonymous said...

Excellent post and I completely agree with you! I've heard more times that I can think of from other guildmates "I'm being selfish tonight and not going on X instance." When I ask why they say it's being selfish, they say "Because I'm tired and just want 'me' time!" To me, that's not being selfish. That's recharging your system! Would they rather lose that uber tank or healer to burnout? I'd rather have my friends happy and have a night or three off. :)

Matticus said...

Well said =). Agreed on all the points.

Harl said...

well said. now you're going to start claiming that you're just being 'moderately selfish' by not allowing me to pay you for potions and transmutes. I see where this is going... ;)

Anonymous said...

that reminds me, I have a huge pile of primal earths for you...

Bell said...

@nightravyn - I try to convince people of this all the time! Glad to see you do the same. :)

@matticus - Thank you! Glad you agree ^^

@Harl - shush. no one ever takes their own advice.

@wowup - ^^ you're welcome!

Breana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Breana said...

Fantastic post and I agree on all points. Everything, even selflessness* can be detrimental if taken to an extreme.

Again, wonderful article, I really enjoyed it.

*edit-(stupid blogger and no edit feature on comments...going back to my wordpress haven.)

Bell said...

@breana - aw. sorry. I am wordpress dumb.

Anonymous said...

This is excellent. I've definitely felt this on my priest (when I was the only healer in a small guild), and the only thing that kept me sane was those nights off!

Absolutely and completely true. Great post!

Tarun Babbar said...

Very surprising, I found something similar to what I think. In fact we both used the same word, i.e. benign selfishness.

Just visit my blog, and you will notice it.


I was trying see your profile, but couldn't find it as such.

Good Work, well expressed,
(New Delhi)

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of playing any kind of tanking class. With PvP sliding to the forefront (gag) and more and more players choosing what I like to call the easy way out (DPS WARRIOR WITH WELFARE EPIX YESSSS), tanks are few and far between.

I'd say that there are only two tanks on in my entire guild at any given time, and he and I are constantly bothered to come tank...anything. Lots of times we'll sigh and agree, but I've definitely gotten to the point where I won't go and do something if we don't have an optimal group. I started loathing taking people's shittily (that is totally not a word, oh well) alts who didn't contribute to the group.

It also doesn't help that my boyfriend and I are my guild's main tanks, so whenever we want to spend in game "time together", it's difficult when everyone is trying to get us to move in different directions. I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with drawing the line.