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The Unselfishness Trap - Logical Arguments for Selfishness?

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posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 12:19 PM
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Hi all,
I've been reading the ebook "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World" by Harry Browne and found a chapter called "The Unselfishness Trap" that most will find appalling. It gives plenty of logically sound compelling arguments on why selfishness is better for you and more sensible than unselfishness, and why the social pressure to be "unselfish" is a trap and fallacy that does not work in your interest. Check it out. It makes a lot of sense, even though it is very "selfish". (no pun intended)

(Note: You can get a copy of this ebook at his widow's website HarryBrowne.org)

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne, Chapter 5

The Unselfishness Trap

The Unselfishness Trap is the belief that you must put the happiness of others
ahead of your own.
Unselfishness is a very popular ideal, one that’s been honored throughout
recorded history. Wherever you turn, you find encouragement to put the happiness of
others ahead of your own — to do what’s best for the world, not for yourself.
If the ideal is sound, there must be something unworthy in seeking to live your life
as you want to live it.
So perhaps we should look more closely at the subject — to see if the ideal is
sound. For if you attempt to be free, we can assume that someone’s going to consider
that to be selfish.
We saw in Chapter 2 that each person always acts in ways he believes will make
him feel good or will remove discomfort from his life. Because everyone is different from
everyone else, each individual goes about it in his own way.
One person devotes his life to helping the poor. Another one lies and steals. Still
another person tries to create better products and services for which he hopes to be
paid handsomely. One woman devotes herself to her husband and children. Another
seeks a career as a singer.
In every case, the basic motivation has been the same. Each person is doing what
he believes will bring him happiness. What varies between them is the means each has
chosen to gain his happiness.
We could divide them into two groups labeled “selfish” and “unselfish,” but I don’t
think that would prove anything. For the thief and the humanitarian each have the
same motive — to do what he believes will make him feel good.
In fact, we can’t avoid a very significant conclusion: Everyone is selfish.
Selfishness isn’t really an issue, because everyone selfishly seeks his own happiness.
What we need to examine, however, are the means various people choose to achieve
their happiness. Unfortunately, some people oversimplify the matter by assuming that
there are only two basic means: sacrifice yourself for others or make them sacrifice
for you. Happily, there’s a third way that can produce better consequences than either
of those two.
39

A Better World?

Let’s look first at the ideal of living for the benefit of others. It’s often said that it
would be a better world if everyone were unselfish. But would it be?
If it were somehow possible for everyone to give up his own happiness, what
would be the result? Let’s carry it to its logical conclusion and see what we find. To
visualize it, let’s imagine that happiness is symbolized by a big red rubber ball. I have
the ball in my hands — meaning that I hold the ability to be happy. But since I’m not
going to be selfish, I quickly pass the ball to you. I’ve given up my happiness for you.
What will you do? Since you’re not selfish either, you won’t keep the ball; you’ll
quickly pass it on to your next-door neighbor. But he doesn’t want to be selfish either,
so he passes it to his wife, who likewise gives it to her children.
The children have been taught the virtue of unselfishness, so they pass it to
playmates, who pass it to parents, who pass it to neighbors, and on and on and on.
I think we can stop the analogy at this point and ask what’s been accomplished by
all this effort. Who’s better off for these demonstrations of pure unselfishness?
How would it be a better world if everyone acted that way? Whom would we be
unselfish for? There would have to be a selfish person who would receive, accept,
and enjoy the benefits of our unselfishness for there to be any point to it. But that
selfish person (the object of our generosity) would be living by lower standards than
we do.
For a more practical example, what is achieved by the parent who “sacrifices”
himself for his children, who in turn are expected to sacrifice themselves for their
children, etc.? The unselfishness concept is a merry-go-round that has no purpose.
No one’s self-interest is enhanced by the continual relaying of gifts from one person to
another to another.
Perhaps most people have never carried the concept of unselfishness to this
logical conclusion. If they did, they might reconsider their pleas for an unselfish
world.

Negative Choices

But, unfortunately, the pleas continue, and they’re a very real part of your life. In
seeking your own freedom and happiness, you have to deal with those who tell you
that you shouldn’t put yourself first. That creates a situation in which you’re
pressured to act negatively — to put aside your plans and desires in order to avoid
the condemnation of others.

40 Harry Browne / How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

As I’ve said before, one of the characteristics of a free person is that he’s usually
choosing positively — deciding which of several alternatives would make him the
happiest — while the average person, most of the time, is choosing which of two or
three alternatives will cause him the least discomfort.
When the reason for your actions is to avoid being called “selfish” you’re making
a negative decision and thereby restricting the possibilities for your own happiness.
You’re in the Unselfishness Trap if you regretfully pay for your aunt’s surgery
with the money you’d saved for a new car, or if you sadly give up the vacation you’d
looked forward to in order to help a sick neighbor.
You’re in the trap if you feel you’re required to give part of your income to the
poor, or if you think that your country, community, or family has first claim on your
time, energy, or money.
You’re in the Unselfishness Trap any time you make negative choices that are
designed to avoid being called “selfish.”
It isn’t that no one else is important. You might have a self-interest in someone’s
well-being, and giving a gift can be a gratifying expression of the affection you feel for
him. But you’re in the trap if you do such things in order to appear unselfish.

(continued)




posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 12:20 PM
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Helping Others

There is an understandable urge to give to those who are important and close to you.
However, that leads many people to think that indiscriminate giving is the key to one’s
own happiness. They say that the way to be happy is to make others happy; get your
glow by basking in the glow you’ve created for someone else.
It’s important to identify that as a personal opinion. If someone says that giving is
the key to happiness, isn’t he saying that’s the key to his happiness? To assume that his
opinions are binding upon you is a common form of the Identity Trap.
I think we can carry the question further, however, and determine how efficient
such a policy might be. The suggestion to be a giver presupposes that you’re able to
judge what will make someone else happy. And experience has taught me to be a bit
humble about assuming what makes others happy.
My landlady once brought me a piece of her freshly baked cake because she
wanted to do me a favor. Unfortunately, it happened to be a kind of cake that was
distasteful to me. I won’t try to describe the various ways I tried to get the cake plate
back to her without being confronted with a request for my judgment of her cake. It’s
sufficient to say that her well-intentioned favor interfered with my own plans.

The Unselfishness Trap 41

And now, whenever I’m sure I know what someone else “needs,” I remember that
incident and back off a little. There’s no way that one person can read the mind of
another to know all his plans, goals, and tastes.
You may know a great deal about the desires of your intimate friends. But
indiscriminate gift-giving and favor-doing is usually a waste of resources — or, worse, it
can upset the well-laid plans of the receiver.
When you give to someone else, you might provide something he values — but
probably not the thing he considers most important. If you expend those resources for
yourself, you automatically devote them to what you consider to be most important.
The time or money you’ve spent will most likely create more happiness that way.
If your purpose is to make someone happy, you’re more apt to succeed if you
make yourself the object. You’ll never know another person more than a fraction as
well as you can know yourself.
Do you want to make someone happy? Go to it — use your talents and your
insight and benevolence to bestow riches of happiness upon the one person you
understand well enough to do it efficiently — yourself. I guarantee that you’ll get
more genuine appreciation from yourself than from anyone else.
Give to you.
Support your local self.

Alternatives

As I indicated earlier in this chapter, it’s too often assumed that there are only
two alternatives: (1) sacrifice your interests for the benefit of others; or (2) make
others sacrifice their interests for you. If nothing else were possible, it would indeed
be a grim world.
Fortunately, there’s more to the world than that. Because desires vary from
person to person, it’s possible to create exchanges between individuals in which both
parties benefit.
For example, if you buy a house, you do so because you’d rather have the house
than the money involved. But the seller’s desire is different — he’d rather have the
money than the house. When the sale is completed, each of you has received
something of greater value than what you gave up — otherwise you wouldn’t have
entered the exchange. Who, then, has had to sacrifice for the other?
In the same way, your daily life is made up of dozens of such exchanges — small
and large transactions in which each party gets something he values more than what he
gives up. The exchange doesn’t have to involve money; you may be spending time,
attention, or effort in exchange for something you value.

(continued)



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 12:21 PM
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42 Harry Browne / How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

Mutually beneficial relationships are possible when desires are compatible.
Sometimes the desires are the same — like going to a movie together. Sometimes the
desires are different — like trading your money for someone’s house. In either case,
it’s the compatibility of the desires that makes the exchange possible.
No sacrifice is necessary when desires are compatible. So it makes sense to seek
out people with whom you can have mutually beneficial relationships.
Often the “unselfishness” issue arises only because two people with nothing in
common are trying to get along together — such as a man who likes bowling and
hates opera married to a woman whose tastes are the opposite. If they’re to do things
together, one must “sacrifice” his pleasure for the other. So each might try to encourage
the other to be “unselfish.”
If they were compatible, the issue wouldn’t arise because each would be pleasing
the other by doing what was in his own self-interest.
An efficiently selfish person is sensitive to the needs and desires of others. But he
doesn’t consider those desires to be demands upon him. Rather, he sees them as
opportunities — potential exchanges that might be beneficial to him. He identifies desires
in others so that he can decide if exchanges with them will help him get what he wants.
He doesn’t sacrifice himself for others, nor does he expect others to be sacrificed
for him. He takes the third alternative — he finds relationships that are mutually
beneficial so that no sacrifice is required.

Please Yourself

Everyone is selfish; everyone is doing what be believes will make himself happier.
The recognition of that can take most of the sting out of accusations that you’re being
“selfish.” Why should you feel guilty for seeking your own happiness when that’s what
everyone else is doing, too?
The demand that you be unselfish can be motivated by any number of reasons:
that you should help create a better world, that you have a moral obligation to be
unselfish, that you give up your happiness to the selfishness of someone else, or that
the person demanding it has just never thought it out.
Whatever the reason, you’re not likely to convince such a person to stop his
demands. But it will create much less pressure on you if you realize that it’s his selfish
reason. And you can eliminate the problem entirely by looking for more compatible
companions.
To find constant, profound happiness requires that you be free to seek the
gratification of your own desires. It means making positive choices.

The Unselfishness Trap 43

If you slip into the Unselfishness Trap, you’ll spend a good part of your time making
negative choices — trying to avoid the censure of those who tell you not to think of
yourself. You won’t have time to be free.
If someone finds happiness by doing “good works” for others, let him. That
doesn’t mean that’s the best way for you to find happiness.
And when someone accuses you of being selfish, just remember that he’s upset
only because you aren’t doing what he selfishly wants you to do.

Poke any saint deeply enough, and you touch self-interest.
— Irving Wallace



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 01:03 PM
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ugh long post! an argument can be made for selfishness. if i am fulfilled by giving to others and realize that, and i give out of my own need to feel good about myself. i have no expectation of any other outcome, such as gratitude or appreciation. it is not about the person receiving, it is about my need to give. is fine, no rules.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 01:08 PM
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I hope this turns out to be an interesting discussion.

I've been discussing this subject with my 11 year old granddaughter.

How to do what you need to do for yourself first - - and finding the balance of consciousness in doing for others.

Its a tough world. If you do for yourself first and become successful - - - that makes you a valuable contributor to society - - and then puts you in a position to help others - - if you so choose.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 01:44 PM
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More Randian bullpucks.

Our entire world is based on a sense of community, from the earliest tribes to the egyptians to the american revolution to the roads we all use and the police that protect us all.

This sort of "argument" is only good for self-righteous sociopaths to justify their own selfishness.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 01:46 PM
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Originally posted by Annee
I hope this turns out to be an interesting discussion.

I've been discussing this subject with my 11 year old granddaughter.

How to do what you need to do for yourself first - - and finding the balance of consciousness in doing for others.

Its a tough world. If you do for yourself first and become successful - - - that makes you a valuable contributor to society - - and then puts you in a position to help others - - if you so choose.


So you are telling her that she should be selfish until she can afford not to be, then if she feels like it, she can help others? This is what we are teaching kids?

No wonder our world is so #ed up.

EDIT: Im not religious, but I think Jesus had some great ideas. Im pretty sure that his ideas about giving have nothing to do with how much wealth you have.
edit on 31-1-2012 by aching_knuckles because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 01:54 PM
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Originally posted by aching_knuckles
More Randian bullpucks.

Our entire world is based on a sense of community, from the earliest tribes to the egyptians to the american revolution to the roads we all use and the police that protect us all.

This sort of "argument" is only good for self-righteous sociopaths to justify their own selfishness.


Maybe, but if you read the chapter, the arguments are logically sound.

I follow a Libertarian philosophy of doing what you want, as long as you don't hurt others. If everyone did that and the elite didn't try to control, enslave and oppress others, and stage all these wars, the world would be a lot better.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 04:41 PM
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Originally posted by aching_knuckles
EDIT: Im not religious, but I think Jesus had some great ideas. Im pretty sure that his ideas about giving have nothing to do with how much wealth you have.


Yeah - - well I was religious and lived/believed the Jesus myth in my younger days.

I don't recall mentioning wealth. Where is your head at?



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 04:46 PM
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Arguments for selfishness:

1) All beings are born with the selfish intent of happiness.

2) You have to first be abundant before you can help anyone else out anyway.

3) It always you to connect with your emotions and allows you to be who you truly are.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:15 PM
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Originally posted by Annee

Originally posted by aching_knuckles
EDIT: Im not religious, but I think Jesus had some great ideas. Im pretty sure that his ideas about giving have nothing to do with how much wealth you have.


Yeah - - well I was religious and lived/believed the Jesus myth in my younger days.

I don't recall mentioning wealth. Where is your head at?



Originally posted by Annee
If you do for yourself first and become successful - - - that makes you a valuable contributor to society - - and then puts you in a position to help others - - if you so choose.


Im sorry, this made it sound like you were saying "Once you can take care of yourself financially, only then can you help others if you so choose"



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:21 PM
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reply to post by aching_knuckles
 
Lol yes i agree another horrible self congratulatory, self serving academic with another sledghammer to smash societies pillars



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:38 PM
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Originally posted by arpgme
Arguments for selfishness:

1) All beings are born with the selfish intent of happiness.

2) You have to first be abundant before you can help anyone else out anyway.

3) It always you to connect with your emotions and allows you to be who you truly are.

reply to:
1)many times the happiness of others (your children at christmas etc)determines your own happiness therefore happiness brought about by selfless motives.
2)no amount of money will help you talk a suicidal from not jumping off the ledge (although a very convincing and motivational talk could a multi millionairre cannot help a terminally ill person in the same way a poor person cant so.......money isnt always a prerequisite of help .
3)pretty self evident if you are already a selfish b**********,who you trully are determines what you trully do, not what you do that allows you to 'be'(as though there were some self induced impositions)to this proposition.mind you i see a paradox here because if as you suggest selfishness brings some kind of slef liberating freedom to be who you TRULY ARE then you must be such a hypocrite at christmas when you give presents out because then you wouldnt be truly YOU because then you wouldnt be self liberated and selfish



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 06:40 PM
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This requires a deeper understanding of what consciousness is. It is all you, only you broke yourself up into an infinite number of pieces to experience an infinite number of experiences from an infinite number of points of view.

In order to have the above be effective, you have to give each and every part "free will." This maintains the integrity of the system. Each and every being has free will, only the level at which you both recognize this and utilize this depends on your evolutionary point. A monkey - part of the animal kingdom, doesn't get a lot of free will to express because it self awareness is limited. A human in a body gets more free will to express but not as much as a human higher self. A computer has no free will and never will, except as an expression of the user.

Now, what does this have to do with selfishness. Your growth is selfish, it is self centered as you can get, as it is all you. But, in order to facilitate a true and balanced growth process you must refrain from interfering with another aspect's growth, otherwise everyone and every thing grows at the same rate and experiences the same exact things - hive mind if you will.

To help another is not really a good thing, but to assist another is a fantastic thing. Here I'll illustrate the difference. If you open a soup kitchen for homeless people and let them come and go as they please, you are assisting. This is good for you and good for others, as the energy exchange is based on the evolutionary process of those involved. If you open a soup kitchen as a means to attack the poor homeless people and force good wholesome soup down their throats because the need it - and you want to help, you've done a disservice to both parties and will be energetically slapped for it. In our example, the homeless person is experiencing homelessness and you are not privy to the evolutionary process of the homeless person's personality - that which you see, and the soul matrix and the decisions that are at play in these two systems.

If you interfere with a process you've committed a kind of crime. Do-gooders think their way is the best way, the only way, the approved way and as such are sure that others want to take from their generosity. This could not be further from the truth in most cases, as most don't have a clue as to what is going on in the process. If I decided to become "homeless" to experience the true nature of this, then others must leave me to experience it. If I see myself as an urban camper, then leave me to it, let me discover what the process is all about - otherwise I will not know, as I want to KNOW, not be told, what it is all about. Now, one might say that being interfered with is part of the homeless process and this may be true but for out illustration here let us keep it simple.

To assist another is a beautiful thing, one of the great parts of life. To "help" others is a rather ugly, confused action that leads to even more confusion when the process does not pan out in the way those involved wanted for their growth. In fact, one of the most overlooked and ignored - often vilified, aspect of assisting is not doing anything at all. More often then not, doing nothing is the right thing to do. Once my friend's 3 year old got stuck between two stones and started to cry. I watched him do nothing but watch, after the cry didn't produce "help," the child extracted itself from the predicament - learning from a lack of assistance. A group of helicopter mothers would have killed him for failing to help the poor child.

As for being selfish, this does not mean the same thing as being a jerk. One can be totally selfish and live in a harmonious way with others - the two are not mutually exclusive. But, one can become to polarized in both directions. An example of being too selfless might be a group of folks getting on a bus, everyone wants the other to go first and in the end, no one gets on the bus. A example of being too selfish, any behavior at a black friday sale.

Regardless of how you externally express selfishness, one must be selfish in their dedication to their evolutionary process, they must put that before all else, as all else flows from this universal ideal.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 07:31 PM
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One or the other eh?

how bout a healthy balance of both... selfishness for your self, to be disciplined, physically, mentally, to gain knowledge to put to use in getting a job, so you can afford a home, find a wife, and start a family...
now you dont have to worry about any one else, and that doesn't have to be considered selfish... you can be friendly to people you meet, you can do anything, but the world shouldn't expect you to give anything to anyone, you have earned for yourself, and you shouldn't be guilted into giving or anything... but humanity that now exists, the way fo the world was founded out of a sense of community, if it weren't for that cooperation we wouldnt exist with all the things we exist with, the world still operates on a massive network of cooperation and goodwill.. the problems the world is coming to face are many,., and if the man who has his knowledge, job, home and family, routine of work,.., is outnumbered by the men who have nothing, and no means to make a living, what is the next rational move,.people may say survival of the fittest those who cant make it in the system will die ,, and the aristocracies, the kings, and slave masters of the past would agree with you... but how is it fair, that humans can make a game, that benefits many, but many more cannot play..and the winning is life and the results are death...

the philosophy of pure selfishness is found in nature, it is the rule and law of the rats and wolves,,. what the abandoning of lack of principles, virtues, and humanity gave us is astonishing and that must not be forgotten.,.if it is we will find ourselves back in the world of rats and wolves, of deception and fear, men that are relatable more to the actions and demeanor of the beasts, then to that of supreme intelligence, and god.



posted on Jan, 31 2012 @ 09:59 PM
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Originally posted by aching_knuckles

Originally posted by Annee

Originally posted by aching_knuckles
EDIT: Im not religious, but I think Jesus had some great ideas. Im pretty sure that his ideas about giving have nothing to do with how much wealth you have.


Yeah - - well I was religious and lived/believed the Jesus myth in my younger days.

I don't recall mentioning wealth. Where is your head at?



Originally posted by Annee
If you do for yourself first and become successful - - - that makes you a valuable contributor to society - - and then puts you in a position to help others - - if you so choose.


Im sorry, this made it sound like you were saying "Once you can take care of yourself financially, only then can you help others if you so choose"


Success could be a degree in social work you devote your life to.

You are the one who saw money as success.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 09:13 PM
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Originally posted by Annee

Originally posted by aching_knuckles

Originally posted by Annee

Originally posted by aching_knuckles
EDIT: Im not religious, but I think Jesus had some great ideas. Im pretty sure that his ideas about giving have nothing to do with how much wealth you have.


Yeah - - well I was religious and lived/believed the Jesus myth in my younger days.

I don't recall mentioning wealth. Where is your head at?



Originally posted by Annee
If you do for yourself first and become successful - - - that makes you a valuable contributor to society - - and then puts you in a position to help others - - if you so choose.


Im sorry, this made it sound like you were saying "Once you can take care of yourself financially, only then can you help others if you so choose"


Success could be a degree in social work you devote your life to.

You are the one who saw money as success.


No, the words " valuable contributor to society" are generally used as code words for financial success, especially amongst those on the conservative side. Please stop attacking me like I am the only one who could have possibly inferred that from your words and context. In fact, I would assume that most members of this forum would read it as such, as that is how I see those words used here.



posted on Feb, 1 2012 @ 09:27 PM
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Originally posted by aching_knuckles

Success could be a degree in social work you devote your life to.

You are the one who saw money as success.


No, the words " valuable contributor to society" are generally used as code words for financial success, especially amongst those on the conservative side.


Who says? Sorry - I don't use code words.


Please stop attacking me like I am the only one who could have possibly inferred that from your words and context. In fact, I would assume that most members of this forum would read it as such, as that is how I see those words used here.


Attacking you?

You responded to my post - - I responded to your post.


edit on 1-2-2012 by Annee because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 2 2012 @ 12:05 AM
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Originally posted by cuchullainuk777
Arguments for selfishness:

1) All beings are born with the selfish intent of happiness.

2) You have to first be abundant before you can help anyone else out anyway.

3) It always you to connect with your emotions and allows you to be who you truly are.

reply to:
1)many times the happiness of others (your children at christmas etc)determines your own happiness therefore happiness brought about by selfless motives.
2)no amount of money will help you talk a suicidal from not jumping off the ledge (although a very convincing and motivational talk could a multi millionairre cannot help a terminally ill person in the same way a poor person cant so.......money isnt always a prerequisite of help .
3)pretty self evident if you are already a selfish b**********,who you trully are determines what you trully do, not what you do that allows you to 'be'(as though there were some self induced impositions)to this proposition.mind you i see a paradox here because if as you suggest selfishness brings some kind of slef liberating freedom to be who you TRULY ARE then you must be such a hypocrite at christmas when you give presents out because then you wouldnt be truly YOU because then you wouldnt be self liberated and selfish


Response:

1) You can not control how others feel, only influence. In order to have more happiness it is important to learn to be happy even if others are not.

2) Well first you need to focus on your self in order to have the confidence to talk to the suicidal person.

3) Well if a person WANTS to give out presents then that is THEIR will. It is still coming from self and the person doing what they want. You are being who you truly are but sometimes people suppress that because they are scared about what other people think. If you just focus on yourself, you don't give a damn...



posted on Feb, 2 2012 @ 12:13 AM
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The problem is you can create a logical argument for pretty much anything. Which is why our court system is jacked up, because it is based on argument rather than truth, or fact.



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