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From the Word Fugitives archive...

Hooray for selfishness!

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (1 of 38), Read 386 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Barbara Wallraff (msgrammar@theatlantic.com)
Date: Wednesday, April 14, 1999 09:56 AM

Amy Marsman, of New York, N.Y., writes: "I am interested in either learning or coining a word that emphasizes the positive aspects of selfishness. Selfishness has such negative connotations, yet this behavior -- looking out for one's individual health and well-being first and foremost -- is considered emotionally and physically sound. Why should that have negative connotations? I hear a lot of people around me apologize for this enlightened view, because they have to use the nasty word 'selfish' to describe themselves."

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (2 of 38), Read 363 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Jonathan Mussett (swimdawg_7@hotmail.com)
Date: Wednesday, April 14, 1999 10:20 PM

sensitive personal gratification

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (3 of 38), Read 363 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Thursday, April 15, 1999 10:07 PM

As far as I know, what's needed to maintain personal health is hygiene, either physical or mental.

Selfishness, as I understand it is to be more concerned with oneself than with others. Like being "one way." Yet most of us love someone or some cause or something greater than ourselves, and so we really don't look out for ourselves first and foremost.

Soldiers and parents come to mind as examples of unselfish people, giving up their lives or big parts of them for others, not looking out for themselves first and foremost, but others. Yet they still need to be physically and mentally fit and this takes hygiene.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (4 of 38), Read 344 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Michael Fischer (tsuwm@aol.com)
Date: Friday, April 16, 1999 03:24 PM

just make the small move from selfishness to solipsism -- once you truly believe that all you can know is yourself you will have no further worries in this regard!

80)

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (5 of 38), Read 292 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Amy Marsman (marsmana@mskcc.org)
Date: Thursday, April 22, 1999 11:06 AM

Michael Fischer,
Solipsistic belief or thought is not at all the same concept as healthy selfishness. I don't need to accept any philosphical premise on the nature of reality. Solipsism in active use could lead to the *negative* aspects of selfishness, so I definitely do not want to 'accept' this position as my new word. Had I wanted to have a discussion on epistomology and reality and perspective, then maybe solipsism would apply to my question.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (6 of 38), Read 333 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: John S. Smity (smittyjs@hotmail.com)
Date: Friday, April 16, 1999 11:30 PM

Ms. Marsman,

I ran across the article called Word Fugitivess , Hooray for selfishness seemed interesting, 20 years ago I read a book written by Ayn Rand called, "The Virtue of Selfishness" and it answered many of the questions you posed.

Could it be the the negitive connotations attached to the word selfishness are just that; connotations? Is it possible that by looking out for ones best interest is not always a bad thing, that maybe by doing the best for oneself those near and dear are uplifted also?

Altruistim has always had a problem with selfishness as it doesn't fit the mold but it is the single-minded who seem to be the achievers,the makers of what changes lives, or the advancement of man, not the unselfish. Can it be that what we see as selfishness is just a skewed point of view?

John S. Smith

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (7 of 38), Read 329 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Saturday, April 17, 1999 06:20 AM

self-actualize: to realize fully one's potential

On the other hand, selfish carries with it a disregard for others.

selfish
1 : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2 : arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of others

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (8 of 38), Read 329 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Dan Chall (danchall@interport.net)
Date: Saturday, April 17, 1999 09:06 AM

On 4/17/99 6:20:05 AM, Roger Gay wrote:
>On the other hand, selfish carries with it a disregard for others.

Yes, but on the third hand, Adam Smith, writing about the invisible hand, said

"By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."

The words in the definition do not require that selfishness has to be only a bad thing, setting aside the connotations of the word. Perhaps egoism is a somewhat more neutral synonym.

--Dan

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (9 of 38), Read 335 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Saturday, April 17, 1999 09:31 AM

I'd still say it's possible to act out of self-interest without being so bloody selfish about it. The evolution of the thought brought about such modern business jargon as the win-win scenario.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (10 of 38), Read 330 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Saturday, April 17, 1999 06:46 PM

In response to John S. Smity, regardless what Ayn Rand intended, a word's meaning certainly includes its connotations. If someone were to call me selfish, I certainly wouldn't take it as a neutral comment nor a compliment.
In response to Dan Chall, I think Roger Gay got it exactly right to distinguish self-actualization from selfishness. Notwithstanding Adam Smith, I look to Abraham Maslow, who studied self-actualizers, and found that "among other characteristics, self-actualizing people tend to focus on problems outside of themselves"
(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/bhmasl.html).
In defense of my earlier offering of the word "hygiene", I was thinking more at the basic levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, where we need to take care of our biological, safety and security needs so that we can then focus on higher needs, self-actualization being the highest in the hierarchy.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (11 of 38), Read 277 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Friday, April 23, 1999 03:35 AM

Amy Marsman, of New York, N.Y., writes: "I am interested in either learning or coining a word that emphasizes the positive aspects of selfishness. Selfishness has such negative connotations, yet this behavior -- looking out for one's individual health and well-being first and foremost -- is considered emotionally and physically sound. Why should that have negative connotations? I hear a lot of people around me apologize for this enlightened view, because they have to use the nasty word 'selfish' to describe themselves."

I think there's general consensus, if there can be among a small number of people, that we don't have exactly what was asked for. The word "selfish" does have very negative connotations, and the English language needs such a word.

Whether it's "first and foremost" aside, there are a couple of phrases that might work in a particular conversation. Amy uses the phrase "looking out for" which I've remember from some movies in the 60s. "I'm just lookin' out for myself, darlin'".

It seems to me that if your emphasizing basic health and well being, you might want to way "I'm just taking care of myself".

Neither phrase seems to carry the very negative connotation of saying "I'm being selfish".

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (12 of 38), Read 272 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Austin Peterson (auspeter@allwest.net)
Date: Friday, April 23, 1999 02:06 PM

Instead of us being concerned about another person's accusation that we are selfish, which drives us to justify our behavior with a substitute word, why not rely on the old-fashioned word "responsible" as our personality trait?

Thus, when accused of "being selfish," we can answer, "No, I am being responsible for myself. For if I am not, and others must be, am I not then being truly "selfish?"

I have felt comfortable with that answer for years, simply because most people who have accused me of "being selfish" were really saying that I have not met their expectations. Or, rather, I've been judged guilty of being a lousy "enabler."

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (13 of 38), Read 270 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Saturday, April 24, 1999 06:36 AM

Austin,

I think I'd give you the big BINGO for that one. We were all thrown off a bit by the feeling that we might have been asked to make "selfishness" sound good. Now that you mention it, I do believe that responsible people are often subject to accusations of "selfishness" by irresponsible people trying to con them into something.

You'll have to ask Amy Marsman if she thinks you hit the nail on the head as far as she's concerned, but right now you have my vote.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (14 of 38), Read 252 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Sunday, April 25, 1999 11:37 PM

The more I consider the "first and foremost" part of this task, the more selfishness becomes the very word to use, including all of its connotations. It is not healthy to look out for oneself first and foremost. It is healthy to have a bigger reason for doing things in life.
But we must look out for our own selves. This leads me back into words like hygiene, self-care, and self-reliance. My earlier offering of self-advancement now seems too selfish to be positive.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (15 of 38), Read 230 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Amy Marsman (marsmana@mskcc.org)
Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999 05:39 PM

Fundamentally, I believe that one must take care of themself before anyone else. This is why I say first and foremost. It doesn't mean ONLY take care of oneself. Of course, that is selfishness. Yes, it is true that a nurse can attend to physical wounds of a patient before mending her broken marriage, or take care of these two needs simultaneously. I don't want to deal with timeline/hierarchy issues. However, I do not think that placing myself and my happiness first has anything to do with being selfish. It is simply first. (priority) This does not mean I am incapable of still caring for others or being loving and giving. I happen to be both 'selfish' -- my obvious lack of better word, and an extremely loving and giving person. It is not an either or situation. What I still need is a positive word for the first part of my description of me. (I do like the responsibility idea...thank you.) At this point, I wonder how you would describe a person who is simultaneously selfish and loving...?

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (16 of 38), Read 228 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Friday, April 30, 1999 04:58 AM

I'm willing to start off down that trail to see where it leads. My first thought is toward being a fully integrated person with a well balanced personality rather than simply being obsessive about one aspect of living. (Being responsible is part of that, so I think we did get somewhere.) It's also nice to be adaptable to different situations which call for different priorities.

The thing that comes to mind when I think about taking care of oneself first is the instructions you get when flying. An adults should place an oxygen mouth over their own mouth first, then take care of the children and possibly others. Generally, since the children are dependent upon adults, it is important that an adult is available (rather than passed out in this case). So we have an simple, concrete example where taking care of oneself first is part of a whole well balanced way of dealing with things.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (17 of 38), Read 228 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Bill Hunter (bhunternh@earthlink.net)
Date: Friday, April 30, 1999 03:17 PM

Perhaps positive things can come of being "selfish" for oneself and for others if the sense of being committed to achievement (within and without the self) is emphasized. What about describing such a one as "well-vectored"? Would that not promote(without selfish resonances) people who implement plans well to achieve goals of self and world?

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (18 of 38), Read 218 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 05:52 AM

Finding the right word is much more interesting than it might at first seem. I know more than one person who's wrestled with this problem. For some reason, they're all women, but I've heard the argument about being "selfish" before. I think there's just a different linguistic approach among men. Women have chosen to use the word "selfish" to describe it (even if it's not entirely accurate), but it seems to me that most men, when facing similar circumstances, don't choose that word at all. (Although someone else might choose it for them.)

I went back to one of them and discussed it again, and we're fully agreed that the word "selfish" is being used because there doesn't seem to be a better word choice. Certainly, her intent when she describes her need to be "selfish" doesn't include the negative connotations of the word. (i.e. it's not really her intent to hurt others.) Amidst all the servicing of dependents and dealing naturally with her established social network, she also needs to step back and take care of herself.

I think that the solution that hasn't been asked for is that the other people in the social network have a responsibility to support her. But there are still two things that seem to me to demand a proper word. One is that adults still have take some responsibility for themselves, pretty much no matter what. And the second is that there are many people who are in circumstances in which they receive much less support from the social network than they need, even though they are contributors. The second may be partly subjective but the first can be taken as an absolute. Anyone who's not taking any responsibility for themselves at all is either a very young child or at least acting like one.

My vote is that if we are right in our determination (me and the women I've spoken to), then there is currently no word in the English language that means exactly what's been asked for, but there surely should be. Calling someone "selfish" for taking care of themselves as needed just doesn't cut the mustard.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (19 of 38), Read 212 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 10:52 AM

The language of egoism.

I found a discussion site dedicated to philosophical discussions, with a subsection on egoism. I posted the following question. We'll see what develops. (Hope you don't mind my reference to Atlantic Unbound and other posts.)


I don't know if this forum is intended for an exclusive group, but I found it easy to access and register, so I guess your intent is that it be shared with the public. If I'm an egoist, perhaps I shouldn't care what your intent was. I have a question and I hope someone will have a good answer.

The views people hold, discussion of their views, and complications in philosophy can often (in my opinion) be related to language. I take it, no one will think this idea is unusual or vague. A question was recently posted in the Atlantic Unbound discussion forum, asking for an alternative for the word "selfish", one that doesn't carry the negative connotations.

Atlantic Unbound is related to the publication, The Atlantic Monthly. The people who participate in the forum seem to have a reasonably good grasp of the English language. Quickly, there were references to Ayn Rand and egoism, but no one has provided an alternative word.

With the help of Webster, here are two words worth considering.

selfish
1 : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others
2 : arising from concern with one's own welfare or advantage in disregard of other

selfless
: having no concern for self : UNSELFISH


When discussing ethics, we can't avoid dealing with the social nature of human beings. Yet it appears to me that the language is lacking any efficient way of discussing what is found between the two extremes of selfishness and selflessness. Eskimos have how many words to describe snow? How is it that people can't readily come up with a set of words describing some range of values from 1-10 between various levels of selfishness and selflessness or variations in the character of selfish or selfless acts?

One must be "excessively or exclusively" concerned about oneself, and if not intending harm to others at least disregarding others to qualify as "selfish". Therefore harm may come to others as the result of any form of selfishness, as the fault of the person who is selfish.

To be selfless, on the other hand, may be at the expense of taking responsibility for oneself, and in such extreme perhaps suggesting that the person may actually be childish or irresponsible (if they have not been awarded sainthood).

So I'm posting this comment in this forum recognising that some vocabulary list might be presented by those of you who have taken more than a passing interest in the general subject. That's my question. Can you provide a list of words that I simply haven't thought of yet or may not be aware of because they are esoteric? If the answer is no and there is no such word list to study, perhaps someone would like to speculate on why such a list of words has not developed.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (20 of 38), Read 210 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 11:54 AM

From the Ayn Rand Institute


Dear Mr. Gay:

Thanks for your comment. I don't know if you've read the introduction to THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS, but in it, Ayn Rand discusses why she uses the word "selfish." Also, in ethics, selfishness and egoism have a different sense than in some of the dictionary definitions. I think we're stuck with that word. And, in fact, it's not as much of a "dirty" term as it used to be. Like many words in our language, it does have different meanings to different people.

Sincerely yours,
Michael S. Berliner

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (21 of 38), Read 208 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 01:33 PM

Another response:


I hope my response is not too simplistic for you, but I fail to see the problem. In my view, the word "self-interest" perfectly fulfills your requirements. Every healthy human being should and must maintain a reasonable measure of self-interest. But you are quite right in the unsuitableness of the word "selfish" for the meanings that Ayn Rand employs it. And you will notice that in her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, she actually distorts the dictionary definition in order to use that word. In fact, I have one whole essay devoted to that distortion at my website, Objectivism and Thomas Jefferson.

If such an obvious choice as the word SELF-INTEREST is unsuitable, I would be very interested in knowing your reasons why.

Best wishes,
Eyler Coates


(Note from me: I don't think "self-interest" is quite right. We need something that relates to action. Interest can be too passive.)

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (22 of 38), Read 205 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 02:04 PM

Mr. Gay,

Ayn Rand specifically advocated "rational selfishness".

Yours Truly,

Janee' J. Garcia
ARI Mailroom


(Note from me: Commentors in a philosophy discussion I visited claim that if "selfishness" is rational, then the term "rational selfishness" is redundant.)

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (23 of 38), Read 197 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Tuesday, May 04, 1999 07:02 AM

Till: Roger.F.Gay
Angående: Re: Selfish vocabulary
Datum: den 3 maj 1999 22:35

<>
> A question was recently posted in the Atlantic Unbound discussion forum,
> asking for an alternative for the word "selfish", one that doesn't carry
> the negative connotations.

> With the help of Webster, here are two words worth considering.
>
> selfish
> 1 : concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or
> concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without
> regard for others 2 : arising from concern with one's own welfare or
> advantage in disregard of other
>
> selfless
> : having no concern for self : UNSELFISH

> If the answer is no and there is no such word list to study, perhaps
> someone would like to speculate on why such a list of words has not
> developed.

First, the last: why English doesn't have a set of words for degrees and connotations in a spectrum of selfishness.

Welll... the first point is that despite the wide range of connotated and nuanced near synonyms which English has accumulated in some areas (eg: through assimilation), having a single word for each shade of gray is not the only or preferred linguishtic mechanism. For example, we do in fact have many terms for snow - they just need not be single words. (Powder, corn snow, slush, sleet, wet snow, dry snow, heavy snow, tiny snowballs, crusty snow, blizzard, white out, icy snow, a dusting of snow...). In other words, the language can describe nuances with word combinations, rather than just by having many single words. This IS linguistically efficient, with a mix and match NxM flexibility.

(This tendency also showed up in the attempts to define a small vocabulary Basic English language for universal communication; the small number of allowed verbs, for example, became a larger number of verb+preposition aliases for the normal range of verbs. Unfortunately, each such "pseudo word" combo has to be learned too, which can be as hard as learning more words. Take down/up/over/out/in, cut up/into/through/between/among/over/above, bring up/down/over/under/into, chew up/out, ... So it can be misleading to consider the existance of single words as the measure of expressiveness or complexity of the language in a given area.)

Thus, in English, one might say "selfish", "unselfish", "selfless", "very selfish", "slightly selfish", "unusually selfish", "normally selfish", "somewhat selfish", "moderately selfish", "self serving", "self interested", "narcissistic", "greedy", "healthily selfish", "self motivated", "conflict of interest", "generous", "giving", "stingy", "self destructive", "losing oneself", "self reliant", "self sacrificing", "martyr", and many other words or phrases which convey degrees, directions or specific forms of selfishness or self care or the opposite. (And concepts aren't always expressed as adjectives.) We also refer to self-esteem and self-regard and good boundaries and many other things to address some concepts near tho not exactly on the same "self/ego oriented" continuum as "selfish" and "unselfish".

The second point is that selfish and unselfish/selfless are implicitly contrasted with "normal" or "balanced", which doesn't have a specific word within this spectrum. This is not unusual in the language. "Tall/Short" is a good basic example, despite the fact that we all know it's not a binary attribute and most people are "in between". Omitting "tall" or "short" implies "medium height", or we can use multiple words as described above to convey more nuance (like "medium height" or "very tall"). Consider how heavy or light my laptop is, or whether a person is labeled as strong or weak; no specialized word for "in the middle" is provided for many axis terms. We describe many scales with only "direction" words, like arrows pointing in opposite directions from "normal", and use lack of any label to mean "middle" and multiple words to describe where on the scale one means to label something.

(This reminds me of not having a "going forward" blinking light on a car at an intersection; given how many times people don't use their turn signals, and the way at some intersections most traffic turns but I may be going straight, there have been times I would have liked to have had a "forward" light to let people know my intentions).

> Eskimos have how many words to describe snow?

As an aside, I've heard that this common example has been debunked... but I don't have any ready references.

> How is it that people can't readily come up with a set of words
> describing some range of values from 1-10 between various levels of
> selfishness and selflessness or variations in the character of selfish
> or selfless acts?

> One must be "excessively or exclusively" concerned about oneself, and if
> not intending harm to others at least disregarding others to qualify as
> "selfish".

"Selfish" without any futher qualifier means "outside the approved norm in the direction of selfishness". Yet we can say "somewhat selfish" or "very selfish" easily. We can even say "a health degree of selfishness" and be understood among those who have thought about the matter, or at least been exposed to some pop psychology.

> Therefore harm may come to others as the result of any form
> of selfishness, as the fault of the person who is selfish.

Given all the above, I still do take your point. It takes few words and is widely understood to label somebody as "badly selfish" (harming the community more than most) or "goodly unselfish" (helping the community more than most), but many words to describe a form of being self concerned in healthy balance to the community. (That "going forward" light on the car). This could either be because that is considered normal and expected so it doesn't take a special word (what word do we use for being neither underweight nor overweight?), or because our culture isn't aware of the possibility of balanced self interest so doesn't have a word or standardized phrase for same.

I think the former of these two is more likely. By far most people do balance self interest and community interest, and the society would not operate otherwise. So only deviations need labels. And being outside the socially expected envelope in the direction of selfishness is going to have (in the default case) a negative connotation.

Rather than look for a word or term, I would suggest that the first task is to describe very well the concept (in a sentence or paragraph or more) which you might wish to convey. How does it differ from "somewhat selfish", and from the unnamed norm of being balanced or moderate between the extremes?

At one point, you refer to the lack of gradiations on a scale from selfish to unselfish; at another, the lack of a term for being in the middle between selfishness and selflessness; I've addressed these above. But at still another point, you seem to be lacking a word for "positive selfishness", which is another matter.

Is the unlabeled concept one of being "more self gain oriented than most people are, but in a positive way"? That is, outside the norm and thus deserving of a "direction of deviation" label word/phrase, but without a negative connotation like "selfish". That concept would indeed be hard to convey in a couple of words. Or is there some other concept? Until it is defined more closely, we cannot examine how the language does, does not, or should handle it.

More obscure concepts often take longer explanations rather than single words, and this is natural. In this case, the real issue may be only secondarily linguistic, and primarily a desire on somebody's part to make a specific *concept* (eg: good selfishness) very common and accepted. That is, they are leading from a socially prescriptive goal rather than one of linguistic description - even if the other is an auxilliary goal or technique for aiding the primary goal.

> To be selfless, on the other hand, may be at the expense of taking
> responsibility for oneself, and in such extreme perhaps suggesting that
> the person may actually be childish or irresponsible.

"May" is the operative word here. It may be good, or it may be bad, or just descriptive. Selfless is more often used as praise, and less often implies lack of responsibility for oneself.

I have some further thought on why "selfless" when used alone is usually positive, while "selfish" used alone is usually negative. There is a normative tribal influence here. The tribe appreciates when one of its members goes 'above and beyond' by putting the interests of somebody other than self ahead of self interest; the tribe becomes concerned when somebody puts their own interests above those of others. In this context, having a negative connotation on "selfish" (meaning outside the accepted norm in that direction) has survival value to the tribe - just as disparaging rather than praising "betrayal" would have. There is a certain "downhill slide" aspect of naked self-preservation or narrowly focussed self gain, anchored in the biological imperatives for organismic survival / flourishing and genotype preservation/expansion. So the short labels for those who more than usually put their own narrow interests above the interests of others has a natural negative social bias, to counter this "downhill" slide towards self above tribe. (There are also counter tendencies, of course; we are a conflicted species of social individuals).

Again, one needs to more clearly describe the concept one wishes to convey, which is outside this conventional framing and thus not as easy to convey breifly. Likewise it would be hard to find a single word, or a short and commonly understood phrase, for "betrayal, in a positive sense"; and the first goal of somebody feeling that lack would be to describe (at more length) this atypical concept which is missing an easy label. Then, if there is agreement that the concept is indeed useful for more frequent discussion, we can find or choose or invent a word for it - or much more likely, a phrase.

Roger, if this comment was part of an ongoing discussion with multiple people, feel free to forward my response to this group.

Zhahai

@ Zhahai Stewart zhahai@hisys.com
@ A Meme Gardener
http://rainbow.rmi.net/~hisys/zhahai.html
@ Standard Disclaimer YMMV - Your Maya May Vary

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (24 of 38), Read 197 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Tuesday, May 04, 1999 07:25 AM

Thank you for your detailed response. I'll post it. "Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff", at the Atlantic Unbound site is not an intensely academic forum, but interesting discussion can develop nonetheless. (One needs only to appreciate the importance of words.) After dealing with the question on selfishness for a while, I began to take it quite seriously for a couple of reasons.

One reason is the impact that the word "selfish" is having socially (internationally) right now, probably as a result of Ayn Rand's writings. At least as a secondary result (those who haven't read directly but have heard that selfishness is good through secondary sources) the impact seems to be quite confused and negative. ("I don't care what you say and I don't care about you. I care only about myself and I know that's a good thing now.") I've talked with many middle aged women who live stressful lives who now take it as conventional wisdom that destruction of their mutual social support network through undiplomatic interaction (because selfishness is well justified) is the answer to all their problems. They use the word "selfish" directly, and I can't avoid the conclusion that this new ideal (or at least the way of expressing and believing in it) has a common source.

It seems likely to me that this common wave has simply amplified a problem that's been there all along. It might be efficient construction of the language to rely on modifiers (very, slightly, etc), but I fully accept your point that we assume a norm and have additional words to describe outliers (tall / short). (Good point!) This can actually make it more complicated to describe what is normal than what is not; with important consequences.

I've been an active participant in national (actually international) discussion on welfare reform and in particular dealing with the economics of raising children outside of marriage. One learns that in this political world, policy swings in favor of the simplest argument with the greatest emotional impact. As bizarre as it sounds, that's largely the way we ended up with welfare policies defined exclusively on assumptions of pathology and the presumption of the purely deviant personal character of participants. They can either be victims or demons. There is nothing in the defined processes for dealing with people who are normal in any sense. Thus, the majority (who are relatively normal in most respects) always face unjust, or at least extremely irritating and irrational treatment.

The terms "selfish" and "selfless" or "unselfish" all deal with the fundamental nature of humans, which are social animals. They deal directly with describing an individual's relationship to others as a matter of personal character or behavior. What complications are created for creatures capable of complex thought but deeply dependent on language, by the fact that the norm is more difficult to express?

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (25 of 38), Read 212 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 11:53 AM

From the following list of possibilities, I'm proposing that self-sustaining might be the best choice. Self-maintaining might also be a good choice. At first, either of these may not seem to go far enough -- merely sustaining or maintaining. But I think that depends on what it is you envision sustaining or maintaining. The original question refers specifically to health. It's fairly important to maintain your health. Contrast either with self-preservation which merely implies survival. Self-interest also came up, but that does not imply action.


self-supporting
self-propelled
self-love
self-acknowledged
self-adjusting
self-administer
self-affirmation
self-cleaning
self-betterment
self-command
self-cultivation
self-development
self-maintaining
self-preoccupied
self-preserving
self-referential
self-regulative
self-reinforcing
self-renewing
self-sustaining
self-validating
self-worshiper

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (26 of 38), Read 202 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Monday, May 03, 1999 09:48 PM

This is great, Roger. Those are better words than I came up with. This is exactly the track I was on when I offered up "hygiene" and "self-care". Yet, it was at that point that Amy Marsman gave a reply and dug her heels in, opposing my objection with her using "first and foremost", and I think my objection is mostly with "foremost" part of looking out for oneself, but also with the "first".
I was glad to see that "selflessness" came up in your hunt for the right word. What a great, healthy word that is. That, in my mind is the healthiest way to be. One can be selfless, and eat or take oxygen, at the same time. It doesn't even mean that you cannot drive a Corvette. It means that at the time of being selfless, life or love or tragedy or nature, something has grabbed you out of yourself into something that is bigger at that time, or you have jumped into it.
It's not only altruism. After all, if your driving a Corvette while you're being selfless, no one would say you are necessarily altruistic at that moment. But the firefighter who risks his or her life to save a life must let the self go and be thoroughly involved with the task at hand. Additionally, I remember a friend, who comes from a large family, telling me that his mother sustained herself on apples for long periods of time so that he and his siblings could eat better than that. Each of these, the Corvette driver, the firefighter, and my friend's mother were being selfless and living well in my opinion.


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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (27 of 38), Read 201 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Tuesday, May 04, 1999 07:45 AM

It's thoughts like the ones you express that brought the word "balance" to mind. "First and foremost", did seem to set up a road block. On the other hand, it reminds me of the results of the morality discussions of the 70s, when people were looking for alternatives to the then banned prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, etc. in schools. At the top of the list of moral priorities, issues of physical survival appeared, causing some modern (middle income) Christians to regroup.

There does seem to be a place for putting your health "first and foremost". The problem arises in that "selfish" implies some possible negative impact on the health of others, which is I believe, is what we're trying to remove by finding another word. Both hints however (the word "selfish" and the description "first and foremost") imply that a conflict is created, which doesn't make it easy to find an "good word" for it.

I have to go along with Zhahai Stewart, that the best thing to do now is to get a more complete description of the concept the word is intended to convey. We might be 1. trying to justify selfishness, 2. looking for a word which assumes normative or acceptable consequences to others (self-sustaining or maintaining for example avoids implied reference to others except in the lack of dependence), or 3. perhaps the word we're looking for is nonchalant.

Amy --- are you still with us?

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (28 of 38), Read 191 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Tuesday, May 04, 1999 09:59 AM

Let me contrive a scenario where I think that looking out for oneself first and foremost might be just the healthy thing to do. I was thinking of my friend's mother who ate apples for periods of time so that he and his siblings could eat better than that. Now I haven't spoken with him in years. But let's say there came a time for her when her kids were grown and money was more plentiful.
Let's say she then decided, altruistic, loving person that she is, to look out for herself first and foremost. At least for this new period in her life, she will eat at the finest restaurants, travel the globe, and, hey, drive a new Corvette. Might this be just what the doctor ordered, to give this woman some balance, at least a respite.
I'd be the last person to call this woman selfish. Her character is not even in question. Apply Ayn Rand's thoughts elsewhere, but it is a disservice, an insult to my friend's mother, to use "selfish" to describe her.
I guess this brings us (me, anyway), once again, back to square one with Amy Marsman's request for a good word.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (29 of 38), Read 178 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 01:54 AM

Amy Marsman,

I do think I have a fitting word to coin for you. How about "self-zoned" or "self-zoning"? After all, there is nothing negative about being in a zone.

I was considering a fire fighter, applying him- or herself to saving a life, being in a zone; someone driving a Corvette, being in a car and driver zone; a composer at top form being in a song-writing zone; a mother, sacrificing for her children, being in a child care zone; enjoying a delicious meal, being in an epicurious zone. Why not a self-zone for all the things we do unselfishly for ourselves, just selflessly living in our world self-zoning because, after all, we are always in it.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (30 of 38), Read 122 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Michael Fischer (tsuwm@aol.com)
Date: Sunday, May 09, 1999 09:36 PM

I'm sort of surprised, after all of this, that y'all didn't settle on Self-Love and Enlightenment.

(just kidding... I think)

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Topic: I have THE ANSWER! (31 of 38), Read 202 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 07:09 AM

Here's the answer and how I got it. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.


The question struck at the heart of life, the universe, and everything. It struck me that the answer to the question would provide an understanding of the nature of humanity and its relationship to the cosmos. The thought of holding the key to such fundamental knowledge began to swell within me until I was obsessed and finally compelled to act. Thus, the great journey to enlightenment began.

It took some time to talk my way onto what was said to be a cruise ship as a maintenance hand. The journey to the shore of Japan wasn't so difficult, even with the difficulty I had communicating with what I believed to have been a mostly Tasmanian crew. But I was impatient. It was rather simple to find passage to the mainland but travel by oxcart into the mountain region of Tibet was a bit arduous.

Finally reaching a small village in the foothills I anxiously jogged from building to building in search of someone who understood English. Through a door under a sign that I was assured said "Rent-a-Monk" in Tibetan I found my man. He was more insightful than I expected. I had only mumbled a few quick words through my heavy panting breath when he looked at me and said, "So, you're looking for an interpreter."

Still out of breath, I barely nodded and huffed something that almost sounded like "yes" before he added, "You want to ask the master about the key to the universe."

Stunned, I could huff and puff no longer. My jaw dropped as I sensed the awesome spiritual power of the place well before I had reached my destination, the heart of wisdom and insight, the great master. Again, I nodded and uttered something hardly audible.

"I will take you," came the answer. "One hundred dollars please, American." An offering possibly. I bowed slightly and stuttered something about my sincerity, the honor, and respect. He smiled as he accepted the offering as though he understood all without the need for words. I had passed the first test.

Luckily, there were two donkey-looking creatures, one for each of us. The trip into the mountains wasn't so hard. On the way, the holy monk explained that the uninitiated imagine the great master being at the very top of the mountain. He's not. The view is a spiritual one, an inner view, not part of a common scenic tour in a state park. Oh, how little we Americans really understand.

Not being on top of the mountain blocks the physical view in the same way our emotions block the truth from being understood. That is why the great one is not on top of the mountain. He knows he must overcome it. That is wisdom.

It was surprising how short the trip was. We had only been traveling about twenty-five minutes when I could see a shack ahead of us. The monk nodded at me and grinned. "Soon your question will be answered," he said. The anticipation tore at my brain such that I hardly noticed the meager coverings on the back of the donkey-looking thing tearing at my rear.

The second test of my spiritual enlightenment was built into the surroundings. The hobble was tortured by years of apparent neglect. The chickens and other animals roamed freely, leaving their droppings in and outside the building and they had pecked at one another leaving each with a rather unhealthy and unkept appearance. Should I offer to rebuild the place in payment for what I was about to receive?

I felt that finding inner peace and ultimate knowledge required ignoring the surroundings and decided not to mention them, wondering at the same time if I was merely bending to the western convention that it might seem rude. I had so much to learn. Although I had no real experience with meditation, I did my best to lift my spirit from the plane of the physical surroundings. I was rewarded several times over. My anticipation exploded in a sudden vision. "There", I shouted. "He has materialized from the spirit world."

The monk peered at me and said that it was a man who had just walked out from behind the shack. I sensed somehow that I understood his message. He was telling me that I must understand everything in my own conventional way. There was no hope that I could move through so many spiritual levels all at once. I bowed slightly toward the great master, feeling overwhelmed, fearing that looking directly at him might fill me so quickly with brilliant energy that it would burn my soul. Out of the corner of one blurry eye I was confronted by the third test.

He didn't look at all like a Far Eastern version of Moses after years of wandering. His mode of dress seemed quite conventional compared to what I had seen in the nearby village. He didn't even have a beard. It looked as if he'd shaven that very day. The stainless steel knife with a fake pearl handle strapped to his belt was obviously store-bought. Why does the physical expression of spiritualism need a knife anyway, I wondered?

I bowed again to regain my sense of perspective. It didn't matter. I recalled the counseling given just moments ago by the monk. Not too fast, I realized. This was only a physical projection for my benefit. I began breathing deeply with my eyes closed, pulling myself deeper into that transitional state of meditation that I had suddenly become aware of. It didn't matter. All that matters is the question.

With that realization, I knew that I had passed the third test. No one had to tell me. The thought that if it was truly a vision for me in particular that he might be in a business suit or robes or something crossed my mind only dimly. That didn't matter either. I could overcome it. I was truly ready for the answer.

The monk jostled my shoulder and I awoke into what seemed rather like a consciousness state. I had barely been aware of the verbal exchange that had taken place while I had been preparing myself; probably a ritual greeting that I would not understand without full initiation.

"What is your question?" asked the monk.

The time had come and I was ready. I even expected the opportunity to state my question as a matter of spiritual cleansing. Obviously, he already knew the answer. He must therefore have already known the question.

The monk translated as I spoke. "Someone in the Atlantic Unbound forum asked for an alternative for the word selfishness," I began, "without the negative conn…"

It was just as I expected. The great master was chuckling and the monk along with him. I knew there was no reason to continue stating the question. I felt cleansed. I even somehow knew that in this primitive part of the world, far from any connection to the Internet, there would be no need to explain what Atlantic Unbound is.

The great one raised an arm and responded with what my western cultural references could only interpret as enthusiasm. Like any great wisdom, his commentary was short. I don't recall breathing as I waited for life as I had known it to cease. I felt the dizziness of a man perched on a great precipice of his own miraculous rebirth.

The monk looked at me. The calm in his face reassured me. His words began to pour over me.

"He said that you should mind your own business."

I almost fell off the donkey-looking creature but fell into that partial state of meditation instead. It was becoming much easier now and felt quite natural. In the presence of the great master I had learned quickly. I faced the exchange of one hundred dollars, American, not as a test, but as a ritual; not as an inquiring visitor, but as an initiate. The money no longer matters. I have the answer.

I tried to contemplate the full breadth of the answer as we rode back to the village but understood that twenty-five minutes would not even be enough time to realize the number of dimensions it involved. The negative connotation had been removed; not by simply declaring independence from humanity as if it doesn't exist (as with alternatives that begin with "self-") but by fully confronting the rest of humanity and rejecting the urge to get involved in those things that don't matter to you - in a good way. Thus, the individual is FREE to deal with their own needs.

I had a new clarity of thought. Less than an hour earlier I was worried about the state of a man's shack and whether he'd shaved this morning. It didn't matter. It was none of my business. With this new found knowledge, nothing seemed too great a challenge. World peace. An end to world hunger. I had been reborn.

What do the Serbs want in Kosovo, I wondered? There's plenty of room for them in Serbia. And the Chinese bothering about Taiwan? No reason. I easily imagined the return of traditional state sovereignty in the United States, a world at peace, the troubles of humanity erased.

I'm downloading my final contribution to the Atlantic Unbound forum from a marvelous pay phone with Internet access. The answer has changed me so completely that I know that I cannot return to my previous life. I've decided to live in the foothills of Tibet continuing the process of enlightenment. Should you ever come in search of me, remember to bring one hundred and fifty dollars, American. :)

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Topic: I have THE ANSWER! (32 of 38), Read 196 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 07:10 AM

Alternatively, perhaps she's not selfish. She's just personal needs oriented.

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Topic: Word FBI Award (33 of 38), Read 193 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Barbara Wallraff (msgrammar@theatlantic.com)
Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 08:30 AM

That's an absolutely amazing contribution to our little forum, Roger. Once again, I am compelled to award you the Word Fugitives Bureau of Investigation Special Agent of the Week award. Hooray for Roger! Congratulations!

A member of the Atlantic Unbound staff will be in touch with you about the valuable prize you will receive. (Don't worry -- it's free.)
I believe that you're not just a previous winner but *the* previous winner, as in you've now won twice in a row. Please note that the ultimate honor is to win three times in a row, whereupon one is retired from competition (though of course is more than welcome to continue to participate in the forum).

Hip hip hooray!

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Topic: Word FBI Award (34 of 38), Read 194 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 09:09 AM

Thank you. All gifts are accepted (as well as all major credit cards). :)

Communicating from the spirit world somewhere in the foothills of Tibet,
Roger

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (35 of 38), Read 97 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Spencer Star (spencer@compucup.com)
Date: Friday, May 14, 1999 07:24 PM

I'm surprised that no one brought up the science of economics. The basis of much of economic theory is the "rational" person, that is, a person who maximizes personal welfare. Much of economic theory has been used to show the result on society's welfare of this economic rationality. Ayn Rand's books are a version of utilitarianism or economic rationality.

More advanced economic theory discusses "irrational" versus "rational" expectations.

It easily fits someone who, for example, does charitable work, because that person is gaining personal benefits--esteem, satisfaction from helping others, higher standing in the community, etc.

So you could say that you believe that the welfare of others and society in general is maximized when individuals maximize their own welfare. You might call yourself a utilitarian, though that term is usually associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

John Maynard Keynes said he would much rather have someone tyrannize his pocketbook than another person.

You could also say that you are a strong believer in "laissez faire", French for "let it be".

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (36 of 38), Read 56 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Ellen Holty (volume@sirius.com)
Date: Thursday, May 27, 1999 12:20 AM

I read somewhere someone came up with the term "selfful." Clunky but not negative, no?

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (37 of 38), Read 56 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Thursday, May 27, 1999 07:59 AM

I like brevfulness. It denotes unselfity.

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Topic: 1) Hooray for selfishness! (38 of 38), Read 46 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Jeff Green (net-works@cmpmail.com)
Date: Sunday, May 30, 1999 09:18 AM

It appears that no one word will truly suffice in this scenario. A less "negative" combination of words might be "Internally conscious" or "internally focused/centered": conscious of filling a personal need at a particular time.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (1 of 5), Read 121 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: John S. Smity (smittyjs@hotmail.com)
Date: Saturday, April 17, 1999 11:43 PM

The definitions of many words for one reason or another carry with them certain "moralities" written by the definer.

Selfishness has the bad rap of evil attached to most of the definitions but to quote Ayn Rand from her book "The Virtue of Selfishness"..."the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word "selfishness" is: concern with one's own interests.

"This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one's own interests is good or evil. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions."

S.I. Hayakawa's book, "Use the Right Word - A Modern Guide to Synonyms" under egoism, does say that many connotations (selfishness) are of "grasping greediness without concern for others" but on the other hand "need not suggest an inflated sense of worth at all or extreem preoccupation. Egoism "might apply to someone who does not necessarily consider himself superior but who remains preoccupied with himself." Psycological theorists "stress the importance of a strong ego (or positive self-concept) as a key to mental stability have made it possible for egoism to suggest healthy self-iterest coupled with a solid sense of identity...."

None of that sounds too bad to me. John S. Smith

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (2 of 5), Read 113 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Sunday, April 18, 1999 10:38 PM

John,

There is nothing wrong and everything good with having a positive self-concept, and everything good with having a strong ego. However, there is something wrong with being preoccupied with oneself or being selfish.

Being selfish or egoistic will never take the place of or mean taking care of oneself first and foremost. They mean what they mean, denotations and connotations all combined to equal a negative.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (3 of 5), Read 109 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Tuesday, April 20, 1999 05:46 AM

There is nothing wrong and everything good with having a positive self-concept, and everything good with having a strong ego. However, there is something wrong with being preoccupied with oneself or being selfish.

The selfish people I've met have a built in inflexibility that comes with being selfish. They don't so much make well calculated judgments about things that are in their own self interest, but tend to do things that hurt others instead. Witness for example the most powerful political elements of the feminist movement. They aren't so much pro-women as they are anti-men (anti-western, anti-democratic, anti-human-rights, anti-family, anti-...). Because of that, they create and maintain much more conflict and opposition than a positive, pro-woman movement would get.

There's a huge and obvious difference between acting in a healthy way, which does include self-awareness and requires some degree of self-interest, and being selfish. The inflexibility and tendency to create conflict and opposition that comes with being selfish is often self-defeating.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (4 of 5), Read 94 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Wednesday, April 21, 1999 10:11 PM

Roger...

Agreed, and as usual, well thought out and written. Yet what we've accomplished so far is examine and expound upon the problem that Amy Marsman has with the word "selfishness" without coming up with a really good word that means to look out for one's well-being first and foremost.
I offered "hygiene" and you offered "self-actualization". Yet neither, I think, has the precise focus she is asking for in a word.
How about "self-advancement"?

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (5 of 5), Read 108 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Thursday, April 22, 1999 05:42 AM


Here's a shot:

self-respect
1 : a proper respect for oneself as a human being
2 : regard for one's own standing or position


I tried playing around with gratification, which someone else already offered. That doesn't quite get it though. I've tried to think of a term related to health, and have sent the question to a health professional that I know. No response yet.

Here's a hint about our problem. Take the definition of indifference, which attempts to use an antonym in its definition.

absence of compulsion to or toward one thing or another

And apathy

1 : lack of feeling or emotion
2 : lack of interest or concern


I don't see just one right word there. Phrases are used.

Back when I was interviewing people with drug problems, we used to note whether they appeared to have a healthy interest in themselves. For example, did they bother about their appearance. (Many years ago.) I don't recall having just one word to describe that, but maybe there was.

Here's some other terms.

"ego strength" The ability of the conscious self to maintain an effective balance between inner impulses and outer reality. In Freudian terms, ego strength is the capacity of the ego to mediate effectively between the id, the superego, and the demands of life. An individual with a strong ego can tolerate frustration and stress, postpone gratification, modify selfish desires when necessary, and resolve internal conflicts and emotional problems before they lead to actual neurosis.

Egocentric: A term used to denote a cognitive state whereby an individual comprehends the world only through his or her own point of view.

Self-actualization: An inherent tendency toward achieving self-fulfillment, self-expression and the attainment of autonomy.

Self-esteem: The evaluation an individual makes and maintains with regard to self, expressing attitudes of approval or disapproval, often indicating the extent to which one believes him or herself capable.

Socialization: The process of "growing up," whereby children learn the norms of their society and acquire distinctive values and beliefs.




According to Abraham Maslow, one of the fathers of humanistic psychology, there seems to be a hierarchy into which human needs arrange themselves. Physiological, Safety, or Security, Social or Affiliation, Esteem, and Self–Actualization.

What we're apparently looking for in this question is a word that describes one's willingness or determination to facilitate meeting one's own needs.

Self-actualization is the desire to become what one is capable of becoming. (World learning Zone)

In a way, that does seem to address the question. However, if we're strict and simplistic about Maslow's model, there are four levels of need that should be taken care of before we can get to that. But it seems to me that Maslow's model suggests that lower levels have less and less to do with the choices people make about the way they are, and more to do with instinct and human nature or dealing with our circumstances. People in some parts of Africa spend a lot of time getting food, while Albanians in Kosovo and Serbs in Serbia right now are dealing with issues of safety and security. At what point do we chose to be a certain way for our own benefit verses choosing from a limited range of options to meet our needs?

As there might be some cultural or social perspective included in the question, I thought the following comment from the web was somewhat interesting.

Self Esteem:

This term has superseded the term self respect. With self esteem people can like themselves irrespective of their actions. Respect has to be earned: even for one's self. I prefer the situation were I have to earn my own respect through my actions and deeds instead of having self esteem in spite of myself. source:
http://www.harborside.com/home/s/stevenm/public_html/words.html

Another interesting comment suggesting traps and opportunities in Maslow's hierarchy, Maslow and Mensa

More terms;

ego ideal: The part of the personality that comprises the aims and goals for the self; usually refers to the conscious or unconscious emulation of significant figures with whom one has identified. The ego ideal emphasizes what one should be or do in contrast to what one should not be or not do.

hedonism: Pleasure-seeking behavior. Contrast with anhedonia.

individuation A process of differentiation, the end result of which is development of the individual personality that is separate and distinct from all others.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness! (1 of 3), Read 81 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Ann Franchi (graememarcus@hotmail.com)
Date: Saturday, April 24, 1999 02:41 PM

One small change - selfISM and selfIST.

Ann.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness! (2 of 3), Read 74 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Rus Bowden (lowelldude@aol.com)
Date: Tuesday, April 27, 1999 11:18 PM

I don't know, Ann. Selfism is too much in opposition to theism for my taste to be positive.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness! (3 of 3), Read 73 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Wednesday, April 28, 1999 08:18 AM

It is kinda cute in a smart-alec sort of way though.

"I'm not selfish. I'm selfist."

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Topic: No Topic (1 of 2), Read 84 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Marie Walker (mwalker605@aol.com)
Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999 11:00 AM

How about the term "Ayn-Randism," in honor of her philosophy of appropriate selfishness?

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Topic: No Topic (2 of 2), Read 84 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Roger Gay (roger.f.gay@telia.se)
Date: Thursday, April 29, 1999 12:52 PM

How about just randiness or she's randie?

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Topic: Hooray for Selfishness (1 of 1), Read 60 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Michael Niehaus (m_niehaus@jb2000.com)
Date: Wednesday, May 05, 1999 12:55 PM

I think a perfect word for positive self assertion and appreciation is rather than selfisheness is selfgraciousness. Being absolutely positive in ones' self, but being able to be so in a kind and gracious manner rather than a boisterous and obnoxious manner. Self realized or self confident people are still loath to many people, but that is there problem, and the selfgracious person realizes this.

From one self gracious person to another.

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (1 of 2), Read 59 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: John S. Smity (smittyjs@hotmail.com)
Date: Friday, May 07, 1999 12:32 AM

Roger,

It seems that you have have gotten information of what Ayn Rand said from reading the title of her book, "The Virtue of Selfishness", not at any point do I believe you will find that she advocates: "I don't care what you say and I don't care about you. I care only about myself and I know that's a good thing now."

She does say that I must first and foremost to do the objective thing by doing my best, using my abilities to the fullest, and in doing so this may also help others (you), not necessarily for you, as an altruistic act on my part.

What she does do is to explain that acts people do for self betterment, ie, making the most of their abilities (lives), should not make them feel guilty because some altruist deems that behavior as "selfish". That happens to be the altruist's view and not necessarily correct.

Breaking down the word selfishness. Self: 1. a person or thing referred to with respect to complete individuality; one's own self.
2. a persons nature, character, etc.: his better self. 3. personal interest.
ish: a suffix used to form adjectives from nouns, with the sense of "belonging to" or the characteristics of.
ness: suffix attached to adjectives and participles to form abstract nouns denoting quality.

If as Ayn Rand suggests we don't accept the moralisms attached and deal with the interpretation of the root words that it becomes easier to be more objective in leading your life and certainly live it with less guilt, only feeling guilty when you haven't done your best regardless of what others label you.

I offer the words actualization.... the realization of one's full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity and the grasp of the real world....or aggrandizement: to make great or greater in power, wealth, rank or honor. Either word can use the self- prefix.

John S. Smith

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Topic: Hooray for selfishness (2 of 2), Read 25 times
Conf: Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff
From: Feudi Pandola (nehospnursingschool@rcn.com)
Date: Wednesday, May 19, 1999 04:38 PM

Ayn Rand espoused complete and total self responsibility for ones own actions. Seems to me we could use a huge dose of this attitude in victimworld!


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