Whole Being  —  Self-centered as Compared to Selfish

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Whole Being


Self-cen­tered as com­pared to self­ish  —  we need to learn to find our focus, and to bring it gen­tly back to learn­ing all there is to know about ourselves

Psst! Hey!

** Want more great writ­ing designed to help YOU to shift your behaviour?

** Want to learn how to find, build or deep­en your prin­ci­pal relationship?

** Want to know more about Zen liv­ing and being?

Check out Wayne’s books!


Self-centered as compared to selfish
I’m the queen of my world!!

In keep­ing with this series of arti­cles, let me do a quick com­par­i­son of terms. 

What I’m talk­ing about here is one’s “locus of atten­tion”  —  the place where the per­son “lives.”

Before I move to the two above, let me also say that by self-cen­tered I’m dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing from “oth­er-cen­tered.”

There’s a reason for thinking about this  —  and the selfish part comes into play in our programming as children.


Let’s define the three terms:

Self-cen­tered: “I like ice cream. I have a quart of Chunky Mon­key™, and I’m going to have some now, as I love it. Would you like some too?”

Oth­er-cen­tered: “I like ice cream, but I know you like it more. There’s not much Cher­ry Gar­cia™ left, so you take all of it.”

Self­ish: “I like ice cream, and not only am I going to eat my Vanil­la HEATH® Bar Crunch Ice Cream, I want yours, too.”

About Selfishness

We con­di­tion chil­dren to fit into soci­ety, and most par­ents pret­ty ruth­less­ly try to erad­i­cate selfishness. 

My par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion sim­ply stopped their kids from doing what they pleased by using threats. That cre­at­ed a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions worth of peo­ple who see as their life’s mis­sion to make up for lost time. 

We have mul­ti­tudes of “boomers” run­ning around grab­bing a hold of any­thing that isn’t nailed down, and using crow bars on the things that are.

Often, such people are the ultimate capitalists.

I want, I deserve it all” is their mot­to. This was crys­tal­lized in the 80’s in the mantra, “You can have any­thing you want.” 

And of course, there’s a para­dox here. There is enough. For every­one. The prob­lem with self­ish­ness is, the self­ish per­son does­n’t know when they have enough. Not being sat­is­fied with one dish of Triple Caramel Chunk™, they want a truck full.

(And yes, I LOVE Ben & Jer­ry’s Ice Cream!!!)

The cos­mos is not kind to those who are greedy and self­ish. As is the nature of life, things shift. Things slow down. The creed of the 90’s became, “You can have any­thing you want. You just can’t have every­thing you want.”

That was a major coun­selling issue in the mid-90’s  —  peo­ple want­ed to excel in their career, have per­fect chil­dren and an excel­lent mar­riage, and still have time to be a scratch golfer. 

They had great trou­ble grasp­ing the dif­fi­cul­ty involved in mak­ing even one of these things hap­pen, but because they’d been brought up in a cul­ture obsessed with hav­ing and doing every­thing, they felt incred­i­bly hard done by.

Now, in the 21st cen­tu­ry, the rule seems to be, “Unless you are in the 1%, you can’t have every­thing you want, and maybe you can’t have any­thing you want.”

Payback time, I guess you’d call it.

And then, there’s the Millennials.

Not that it’s a good idea, but most peo­ple can use enti­tle­ment lan­guage with­out blush­ing, so long as it’s gen­er­al­ized. Most peo­ple agree that “peo­ple should be suc­cess­ful,” or “every­one is enti­tled to a big­ger house or a larg­er salary,” or whatever.

It gets more inter­est­ing when it’s per­son­al. One of the con­se­quences of “my” gen­er­a­tion’s upbring­ing is that we raised our “kids” to think they were spe­cial, Indi­go kids, Ein­steins in the mak­ing. They were giv­en what­ev­er they asked for, and even giv­en what they didn’t.

Many of them became per­son­al­ly enti­tled. They expect praise because they are breath­ing. They want rewards for doing the min­i­mum. And it is cer­tain­ly “all about them.”

Peo­ple who do not over­come enti­tle­ment want more of the pie than what they earn. But per­haps more impor­tant­ly, they want oth­ers to pro­vide the extra pie. Not only are they focused on their own needs and wants, they expect the peo­ple around them to active­ly par­tic­i­pate in meet­ing their wants and needs.

They consider themselves the sun, and everyone else is merely a planet circling around.

I remem­ber, some decades ago, work­ing with a nurse who, in the first ses­sion, told it that it was my job to see that she did­n’t com­mit sui­cide. Her friends had been doing that for years, and she’d decid­ed she need­ed a pro­fes­sion­al to keep her alive.

When I stopped laugh­ing, I told her that we’d be work­ing on her look­ing after her own life  —  if she did­n’t want to do that, she could find anoth­er therapist.

She was hor­ri­fied. This was the first time in her entire life that some­one was­n’t will­ing to be manip­u­lat­ed or guilt­ed into put her needs ahead of their own. 

After infre­quent ther­a­py she quit  —  say­ing that she could­n’t con­tin­ue to work with a ther­a­pist who want­ed her to stand on her own two feet, with­out involv­ing others.

About Other-centeredness

The oth­er (dys­func­tion­al) way this can go is that peo­ple can be trained not to be self­ish by being forced to put the needs of oth­ers first. Their life is one tri­al after anoth­er, as they chase their tails try­ing to be and do what anoth­er per­son wants.

A friend dropped off her 17-year-old at our place, hav­ing spent the entire dri­ve berat­ing her for not hav­ing her life fig­ured out. Daugh­ter was beside her­self. While Dar­bel­la hugged her, I said,

Here’s a secret your mom does­n’t want you to know. You’re going to a par­ty, and she does­n’t want the rel­a­tives to hear you don’t have plans for next year, and think she’s a “bad” mom. So she wants you to fig­ure your life out, and tell the rel­a­tives, so that oth­ers will think your mom is a “good” mom.
All of this is about her, not you.”

We’re not here to be run­ning around doing what oth­er peo­ple want us to do. For all you folk that think you’re being a bad kid for not being obe­di­ent, it’s time to grow up and be a self-cen­tered adult.

About self-centeredness

My favourite option is find­ing inter­nal strength and meet­ing inter­nal needs. In oth­er words, being self-cen­tered. Because, as I often ask,

Where else would I want my cen­tre to be???”

Being self-cen­tered is all about grow­ing up and stand­ing on our own two feet.

  • We choose to be with oth­ers, to share, to inter­act, but not out of need­i­ness or the need to be in control.
  • We choose to be alone because we know that, in the end, we nour­ish ourselves.
  • We choose to focus our atten­tion on our voca­tions, because we are called to be of service.
  • Our expec­ta­tion is not to have every­thing we want, but to be every­thing that we are.
  • Noth­ing, not par­ents, spous­es, kids, takes prece­dence over our need to know our­selves through inter-relat­ed­ness and introspection.

This is not selfishness nor self-absorption.

This is liv­ing the quest for self-knowl­edge and self-respon­si­bil­i­ty. I may choose to be of ser­vice, but it will be by choice, not from guilt.

My life will be lived know­ing who I am. My actions will be from desire, not imag­ined oblig­a­tion.

This week, think about your moti­va­tions, and the loca­tion of your cen­tre. If you’ve stuck your cen­tre out there some­where, draw it back in. If you think oth­ers should care about your needs, get over your­self. Clean up your walk.


Scroll to Top