Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane, co-author Rainy Day Thought, where they write about experiences, ideas, nature, creativity, and culture. The latter might appear at times political, but we will try to avoid partisanship to speak to the broader issues that impact a culture. This is just too important a time not to sometimes speak to problems that impact society. As she and I do, readers will find we often disagree and have for over 50 years-- still able to be close friends. You can do that if you can be agreeable that we share more than not despite the difference.

Diane posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments, relating to the topic, are welcome as it turns an article into a discussion, but must be in English, with no profanity, hate-filled comments, or links (unless pre-approved).

Fantasy, the painting by Diane Widler Wenzel, cropped a little to fit the needs of a banner.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Self-interest or Selfishness?

Because this is the time a new year begins, right after my part of the earth has begun back on its path to more light and warmth (even if that seems hard to believe looking outside at the stormy skies, water everywhere, and knowing how cold my feet are as I sit typing this). it is a time I look at personal intentions for the new year. I have written about this before. I don't call them resolutions but they are evaluating where I am, where I have been, and where do I want to go.

It would not matter when a person looked at their life; but if there is never a reevaluation, it better be because things are perfect as they are. Frankly I think looking at ourselves is part of an exciting life. If things are not what we want, then making plans for what would change it, should come next. While there is life, it is never too late to make changes.

In my case, one of my questions is something I have wrestled with before but thought I'd bring up here to see if I could get other people's ideas on how they work through this-- How to discern between valid self interest and selfishness.

Setting boundaries, making goals, all of that requires looking at who we are and who we want to be. I don't believe we can make goals that involve other people-- other than our role in their lives. So we could want to help someone but cannot goal that we will be successful. I can make goals to write a book, paint a painting, work to get such work into the public arena, but cannot goal that it will be seen as good by someone else or that I will sell anything.

So goals have to be about things we can actually control but even then... One of my issues is working through an old question. When do I have a right to want something just for me? I suspect some of this questioning comes out of my parents or maybe even our country's Puritan heritage. My folks, more than often, expressed the viewpoint that I was selfish. Was I really or was that brought up when I wanted to do something for me that counteracted something they wanted for them?

In terms of virtues, I consider selfishness to be negative. It doesn't end up getting us what we want because often it's looking at short term satisfactions instead of long term values. But it's not good to deny all things for self as that would mean we didn't value ourselves enough.

When I do this kind of logical debating with myself, it reminds me of that great scene in the movie Princess Bride (worth re-watching if you haven't seen it for awhile) where the two characters are doing a battle of wits over taking poison. The one man argues both sides but ends up losing because he didn't consider there was a third option. The lesson being, most especially when we are arguing with ourselves, watch out that we have not narrowed our options to the point we don't see a third one outside the box.

So, to quit arguing with myself, I would appreciate any thinking others have done on selfishness vs valid self-interest.


Dick said...

As to your first point about re-evaluating, I got forced to do that when Annie's death brought an end to all my previous plans and expectations. To not re-evaluate them would probably drive one crazy.

The second is perhaps a bit harder to look at as we don't want to feel that we are being selfish. Again when you loose your spouse you are suddenly put into a position where your choices relate pretty much to you alone. It does feel strange but you must be careful to not go overboard and spend too much money, etc. As I have gotten older I have learned that time is more valuable than money, at least if you have enough money to cover the necessities of life. How I share that time is what really counts but I do think you need to keep a little just for yourself and I don't think that is being selfish.

Allan Erickson said...

Rain... the selfish/self interest question is one of theose reserved for people who care, who know empathy.

For me, its like one of my historical heroes, Crazy Horse. He remained poor (kind of like a fighting Gandhi), giving all his wealth to the elders, the widows and kids, yet he knew his health and the quality of the tools of his trade were his wealth, enabling him to be a better provider. His prosperity was his ability to provide.

Doeas that make sense?

Anonymous said...

I do believe a lot of people would consider me a "selfish" person. But I say, it's a question of both semantics and also balance.
Years ago I was always trying to please people. A true people-pleaser. By the time I hit my late 20's I began to see that "I" had to be happy first or I had no happiness.
And by the time I hit 40, I knew that yes, I was a very giving person. Giving back as much as I could. But NEVER to the detriment of ME. IF I can do it for somebody, I do. But if it interferes with my plans, my journey or my happines.....I come first. Because if I don't.....nothing else falls into place as it should.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Two things come to my mind. First, I have always made goals an important part of my life with the idea that I must do my art in such a way that I have a limited time for myself so I could perform as a partner to my husband and be a good parent and grandparent. It meant keeping a record of the time I was actually spending on myself. This record made me and my family happier with my selfish desire to be an artist.
Now, about making goals only about your self and not making them so that you must rely on others to gratify you. For example the goal of selling your art would likely be a bad goal because we have no control of others wanting our art.

Second, there are sure steps you can take to be saleable which might but not necessarily curtail your creativity and development. First, pick a genera and stick with it. Build a body of work that doesn't have to be good but must all be nearly the same. Present your work with pride meaning get expensive framing. Spend a good deal of your time at galleries and start a relationship with the ones you feel compatible with. Be willing to show your work even at the local beauty shop or dress shop. Spend a good deal of your time promoting yourself. Spend money on reproductions. Use the internet to sell.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I did not answer the question, is it selfish to make art without an agreement on how much time and space you can take from your family? My answer is yes.
Second question, Can you or can't you goal that someone will want your creative work? Yes, You can make that goal. However, you don't do it to satisfy someone else. You do it because you love doing it and having it accepted is just frosting on the cake. If people don't like it, you more or less need the conviction to continue believing in yourself. It is then difficult to stay on course of your artistic journey.

Rain Trueax said...

You bring up something very interesting, parapluie when you make this question specific to an example which would be any creative work for any person who is so called. I am trying to remember if I ever discussed the difference between calling, career and job in the blog. Someone with a calling is in a different place than people who simply need to make money at what they do. There is also the question of whether going off to make art would be done to escape the family, instead of a calling that is an inner thing that when denied causes the person to shrivel up inside.

Watching television, going off to do some craft project, fishing, hunting, hiking and I could go on but any activity that someone is choosing to do instead of spend time with someone else could be considered selfish or instead we can ask, how much do we owe our 'relationships'?

Men might find this question easier then women as the cultural norm has been that women put everything into the family while men go off to the wars or to make money. So when a man says-- of course, you know I have to spend two weeks in some other place because work has to come first-- women might wonder if it's true but they basically have been taught to accept it. When a woman has a calling though, and it's not just raising her children like society would prefer, it presents a conflict. In our culture especially today the role of women in the childrearing process doesn't even end when the kids are raised. Now it's often day care, going to school events, grandparents' day, etc. Not to say those things are bad. If the women has made her children her calling, then it's logical that it would carry over into her grandchildren but what if the woman has a calling that is different?

None of that of course answers the question of selfishness or self interest but does make it more specific and applicable to life. I don't have the answer on what is right but think when someone, like Terri, has a handle on it, she is ahead of the game if she also has a calling to do something in the creative realm as for instance she does with writing.

Ingineer66 said...

The Princess Bride is an awesome movie. I love it.

As for your question, the first response that came to mind was, "Of course you are selfish, you are a woman." But since I know you better than that and little bit about your life, I know that you are not a selfish person. I think that response came from my own experiences and the experiences of a couple of close friends.

OK back to the original question. It is a tough one, because at some point your mental well being is affected by your need to do something for yourself and that will start to affect how you respond and behave towards the people in your life that you are trying to be considerate of when you are trying to do the right thing and not be selfish.

I think communication is the key ingredient to expressing your thoughts and feelings if you are in a struggle over whether to put yourself first for a while or put the needs of others first.
I hope that made some sense. I could ramble on about this topic, but will save you all from enduring that.

I just read the comments. My response was definitely based on my life because I have been the bread winner and the parent.

Anonymous said...

I think one can sometimes only discern between "selfish" and "self-interest" after the fact. And I think you can't base it on simply one act, but the balance of one's life actions (or even recent life actions). What are the results? Are they simply benefits to the self? Or do they, over the long haul, result in right action for others as well? And further, how do we know that intensely thought-out right action for the self does not, in the long run, benefit others? It's a great dilemma; great questions.