How To Develop More Intelligent Self-Interest

“One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self. In brief, this is dharma. Anything else is succumbing to desire.”

— MAHĀBHĀRATA 13.114.8 (CRITICAL EDITION)

It’s ironic that the fictional character Joey from friends, who everyone laughed at for being a bit slow, was also the character to come out with one of the most profound statements of the entire show when he argued with Phoebe that,

“There is no such thing as a truly self-less good deed.”

I agree with him.

Whether you’d care to admit it almost every action we make is motivated on some level by selfish intent. Even a charitable act is motivated on some level by your desire to feel good.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with this – in fact, quite the opposite – it’s just something to be aware of. After all, if we weren’t motivated on some level by a desire to feel good, or to avoid feeling bad, then why would we do anything? We need something to motivate us. For that reason there has to be an element of self-interest behind our actions.

Anyway, why do I bring this up?

I heard the expression intelligent self-interest mentioned on a podcast a while back. This got me thinking about what this means and how we can make our self-interests more intelligent.

When I dug a little deeper I came to understand, although they are described/defined somewhat differently by various articles on the subject we can, broadly speaking, look at self-interest on three different levels.

Those are unintelligent (or stupid as I like to think of it), intelligent and enlightened self-interest.

This post is going to define each and look at how we can cultivate the latter two.


What is unintelligent self-interest?

Unintelligent self-interest is the personal interest of an individual that, if pursued, hurts others and/or themselves.

Some obvious examples of unintelligent-interest include binge watching NETFLIX, drug abuse, smoking, mindlessly scrolling on social media, etc. 

You know, all the things you shouldn’t be doing that every blogger and his dog bang on about everyday. (All the things I’ve done before, and in some cases still do…)

These are unintelligent forms of self interest because they satisfy a desire at the expense of our longer term health and happiness. 

We also tend to think because I’m only doing these things to myself that’s ok. I’m not hurting anyone else. 

But that’s wrong. 

What hurts you ultimately hurts others. By not working to resolve past trauma or avoiding negative emotions instead of doing what you ought to, you can trust me when I tell you this, not only does this hurt yourself it also hurts those around you. 

How then can we make our self-interests more intelligent and what does it mean?


What is intelligent self interest?

Intelligent self-interest is still about acting in ways that suit you, however, it also considers the ways in which it helps others.

It is about thinking of the other person while acting for yourself, i.e. you’re not acting without regard for others.

Some obvious examples of intelligent self-interest include meditation, exercise, a healthy diet, plentiful sleep, etc.

You know, all the things you should do that every blogger and his dog bang on about everyday. 

These are intelligent forms of self interest because you’re acting in a way that not only benefits your own longer term health and happiness, it also benefits others.

After all, a happier and healthier you is a happier and healthier world. Further, you cannot look after others without first looking after yourself.

One of the problems that proponents of such activities have is the way in which they frame their motivations. They talk on and on about the benefits they have for you. How meditation, exercise and a balanced diet helps you

Often they over emphasise the benefits these activities have for you without considering the larger reasons beyond the immediate. 

If you want to make mediation a habit, as an example, it’s far better to consider how taking the time to cultivate mindfulness is of benefit to your family and friends, as well as yourself. 

One way to do this is by asking yourself the following question:

Am I doing this because of love or fear?

I believe one of the major reasons our motivations stall is because we don’t feel we’re good enough (fear) and so give up far too easily. This is a problem many of us have when focusing solely on ourselves. If you take the focus away from yourself and instead remind yourself of the other people in your life for whom you’re doing these things (love), you’re far more likely to stick with it.

At least I know I am.

Instead of beating ourselves up for not being good enough and metaphorically whipping ourselves to do something about it, why not focus on feeling good about doing the things that ultimately help others too?

It’s a win win.

This brings us to the final level on the self-interest scale that I made up. The question I have is how can we act in enlightened self-interest that helps others? How can we see that helping others does in fact help ourselves? Let’s first explore what it means.


What is enlightened self-interest?

Enlightened self-interest is acting for others without expecting anything in return.

Some obvious examples of enlightened self-interest include donating to charity, volunteer work, saving someones life, etc.

You know, all the things every blogger and his dog probably should be going on about everyday but don’t.

These are acts done from the goodness of ones hearts. They aren’t done in expectation of gaining anything personally. 

I would make a point that this is very different to acting out of a sense of responsibility or obligation – because you think it’s the right thing to do. 

It’s far deeper than that. 

Enlightened self-interest understands that although no obvious attributable gain for oneself has been made, a bit like the beautiful philosophical idea of karma, what comes around goes around.

People who act in enlightened self-interest understand we are all part of the same world. That by hurting another you’re ultimately hurting yourself.

This is why it’s heavily related to the Golden rule: To treat others as you would like others to treat you.

Or, to put it as a question, one can ask themselves,

How would I want others to help me if I were in their position?

This isn’t rocket science of course.

If you look deeply enough, you’ll find how you treat others is how you treat yourself. Kindness to others extends inwards as well as out. The same is as true for anger or hatred. You give fuel to those feelings within yourself by acting on them. 

Enlightened self-interests come about as a by-product of truly wanting to help this world, as you would like it to be for you. By thinking in terms of how your actions will affect others we can, bit by bit, develop enlightened self-interest naturally. It’s simply a matter of acting in the interests of your heart. 

(As always I welcome ALL comments and ideas on this blog. If you have anything to add or any other suggestions about how develop more intelligent self-interest I’d love to hear from you in the comments sections below)


SOURCES:

https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/unselfish-act.htm

https://hbr.org/1989/05/how-selfish-are-people-really

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightened_self-interest

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma

People As Mirrors

“Your perception of me, is a reflection of you. My reaction to you is an awareness of me.” Unknown.

What do you do when you look at yourself in the mirror?

Maybe you comb your hair or have a shave. Maybe you brush and floss your teeth. Maybe you correct your posture. Maybe you examine the look in your eyes and evaluate your mood. Perhaps you decide to put on a smile. Either way I’m guessing you pay attention. You take the moment to show yourself some love. 

When you smile in the mirror what do you see?

Your radiant self, of course, but is that all?

Can see your mum and dad? Your brothers and sisters? Your children and grandchildren? Maybe you can see your friends or strangers you’ve never met. Maybe you can see the eyes of millions, generations long since passed, staring back at you.

Look deeply enough and you’ll see far more than meets the eye.

If we look deeply at others we can see they reflect the world around them. If you smile at them, they often smile back. And if they don’t, we often drop our own. In this case we become their mirror.

This is something to be aware of. 

When we are mindless we become the mirrors of others. When others shout and harden their defences, we often do the same in response. Like a mirror image. So often in arguments you hear two people shouting with neither party listening. They might as well be shouting into a mirror. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that people don’t just act like mirrors to other people, they often reflect the way the world has treated them.

If the world stopped paying attention to them, they may reflect a lack of interest. If it treated them harshly they might act out in kind. The behaviours of someone often mirror something well beyond the person they’re interacting with.

This is something else to be aware of. 

This is one reason why we shouldn’t take what others have to say so personally. Other people’s behaviour doesn’t reflect in you unless you let it. Unless you act mindlessly.

On the flip side, when we are mindful we can influence what others reflect back at us and the wider world. When we are mindful we can disarm the anger thrown at us by others. When we are mindful we can stand firm and make sure all that is reflected is love and compassion. It is when others are feeling the most pain, and at their most vulnerable, that we have the best opportunity to act as mirrors to the good that exists in all of us.

We should pay the same care and attention we do ourselves in the mirror to all those we encounter. Show them the same love and compassion. Maybe don’t start flossing their teeth, of course, but show them love and compassion all the same. The love and compassion they need. That we all do. 

Showing love and compassion to others is one of the greatest acts of self love. This is because if you look deeply enough you’ll see that person is you. And you are them. As one. 

It’s nice when we see ourselves smiling isn’t it?


SOURCES:

I found the quote from the following article: Discover How Other People are Mirrors of Ourselves