Friday Question: Who Comes First?


So it’s Friday again, and I’ve been pondering what to ask this week. I was torn on a couple of topics, but I finally touched upon something I think I’ve struggled with ever since I had the awareness to start thinking about this kind of thing (I would say about a year and a half ago).

Selfishness is something heavily frowned upon. Why always think about yourself when you could be helping others in need? Of course, although it’s promoted as a virtue for people, few actually live selfless lives. Sometimes, all there seems to be is self-interest and I’m thinking about the authority in particular when I say this (governments/politicians, corporations/bigwigs, even some religious authority– bishops, priests, etc.).

Love yourself.

Loving yourself… is that a show of self-interest? Is that kind okay? (Photo credit: ElenahNeshcuet)

Yes, I believe we live in a corrupt, selfish world. Thus, with that thought, my question is born: Who comes first, yourself or others? Is caring for yourself first selfish, and thus wrong to do? Is any measure of self-interest healthy or unhealthy? Should you put others needs before yours? What is the “right” thing to do when this situation comes up in your life (and it inevitably does)?

I’ve already got my answer, but I’m very curious as to what you guys all think. I’ll be back with my piece tomorrow. For now, though, what do you think?

Who comes first? Yourself, or others?



74 thoughts on “Friday Question: Who Comes First?

  1. I am a very selfless person, I go to the extremes for others. But when it comes down to the line, the person you need to care for and live your life for, is yourself.

  2. I think you should think of others before yourself when the other person is in need. But on a daily basis, if we don’t think of ourselves first, we won’t be prepared to put someones issues before our own when need be.

  3. You should definitely think of yourself first and foremost every day; always do something to improve your own life. That being said, it doesn’t mean there’s no room to think of others! Sometimes it may be necessary to put others’ needs before your own, especially when the other person may be in a state of great need. Helping others may actually even serve to help you, as a person.

    Above all, take care of you. After all, if you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of someone else?

  4. If you are so wrapped up in caring for others that you forget to take care of yourself then you are letting them down. You have to be of sound mind and body to be able to truly put someone else’s needs before your own.

  5. Oh that’s a good one! Personally, I think that yes, I do put myself first unless one of my friends or family needs something, when I will forget my own needs straight away to support them. I also do stop and help when a stranger is obviously having critical serious problems (as in at a road crash) when I will almost unthinkingly dive in to help people in serious need. But if I see someone who is obviously very drunk or drugged and in trouble, then regretfully I tend to view it as not my problem, they have self-inflicted trouble. But what an excellent moral question, and uncomfortable self-analysis…

      • I only ever regret not helping enough, but have never knowingly not helped a friend in need (after all, we aren’t psychic). I don’t think there is perfect balance, only a constantly shifting dynamic. You can only do the best you can do at any given time given the circumstances. At the end of the day you are answerable to your own conscience, and what is right for one person is meddling/callousness to someone else.

      • So you can never truly find the perfect balance for yourself? Even in your own eyes? I’m not talking about how society sees you, I’m talking about how you see you.

  6. Jesus said to “Love our neighbor as we love ourselves”….so I think we first need to love and care for ourselves. To have healthy boundaries in relationships, to not think of ourselves greater or less than what God think of us. Even though the bible also says to “consider others before yourself”…it’s balanced with needing to first love yourself. A tricky balance. Good question.

      • I think whenever I lose sight of who I am in God’s eyes I either get arrogant and self-centered…or I try too hard to please everyone. I never maintain the perfect balance very long…it’s a constant practice. =)

  7. I think it depends on the degree of selfishness, the reason for it… and of course others that are involved. There is nothing wrong with being selfish if it’s for the benefit of your health, healing, and sanity. Should you give up something (such as peace) if it has an impact on your health, soul or spirituality? And if you are dealing with someone who is a “taker”…should you continue to give while they continue to take? Will this not continue to drain you?

    Just my thought:-)

  8. Unless you are a psychopath who likes to use violence (and perhaps head of a mafia gang or government) being virtuous IS selfish behaviour.

    For a start, virtuous behaviour is more pleasant than evil behaviour – provided we are not ‘damaged goods’ (psychopaths etc). For most people lovemaking is more preferable and enjoyable than raping someone, voluntary and honest trade and more preferable and enjoyable than mugging someone, paying the bus fare is more preferable and enjoyable than hijacking the bus with a gun, being nice to someone and seeing them smile is more preferable and enjoyable than being nasty and watching them cry……. and so on.

    Also, for most people living in a peaceful, prosperous, voluntary, free society is preferable to living in a dysfunctional, violent, coercive, deceitful, oppressive society. The former requires (most of) us to act virtuously, therefore virtuous behaviour is selfish even in this more cynical sense.

    • So you’re saying that the selfish is a necessity? I find that very interesting… do you not believe that anything or anyone can live virtuously without the selfishness? Is that at all possible?

      • Why do YOU behave virtuously? 🙂

        Is it because someone if forcing you, or is it because acting virtuously preferable (and pleasurable) behaviour to you?

        If the self is more inclined towards ‘evil’ than good then it makes sense that we should not act in our own self interest. This is what religious and political leaders have been telling us for centuries. “If you act in your own self interest it will be a disaster! You must not be selfish – so hurry up and give us your money and let us rule you instead!”

        But if the self is more inclined towards good than evil then it makes sense that everyone act in their own self interest and reject anyone who tries to rule them (overrule their selfhood).

        We can view our selfish actions as an awesome opportunity and *responsibility* rather than a sin. Our selfish actions are all we have – to do good deeds or evil deeds.

        If evil people can convince good people that being virtuous requires not having strong selfish desires then what they have done in effect is render the population apathetic, powerless, indifferent and meek.

        To be intolerant of evil, violence, corruption, war, deception, inequality, persecution, oppression etc requires us to act selfishly!

      • I very much agree with what you say, although on your last point, there’s nothing to stop from trying to make a positive change (selfishness in a way.). And I agree that selfishness does not at all have to be a sin. That is a misinterpretation, and hugely contextual (Selfishly depriving others of their things because you want to hold them back, as a vague example).

        You touch upon “right” and “wrong” and those I believe to be very subjective, so who’s really to decide other than yourself. It’s funny, because I asked this question last week. 😀

        Thanks for commenting and sharing your opinion, and I hope you come back tomorrow to read my view on things (tomorrow I post a piece responding to my own question).

  9. wow, I just tried to answer this and I can’t stop this urge to write essays. Even with our generosity we are somehow selfish within these acts. Even people who are very selfish have some form of limit to their selfishness. People often think of me as generous and kind, but I think of myself as selfish. We sometimes make choices of who we help and when. Personally, I think that most of my generous acts (excluding the decisions I make when I’m not quite all there in the head) are manipulative.

    • Manipulative? My goodness you’re an interesting character. You definitely have to expand on that. And do you see selfishness as a good thing in a way? Why do you feel selfish?

      • Elaborating on being manipulative: it’s kind of complicated but kindness can, in some cases, lead to trust and having the right people’s trust can be a usefull thing. (eg letting someone crash at yours when they have no where to go as part of your master plan to get him and your friend together… as a neutral example) You can council a friend and give them advice, that benefits you or someone else you care about.
        I notice myself doing things like this, and that is why I think I’m selfish. I think it boils down to something a little bit more complex though. Because a lot of the time I’m trying to change things because I think certain things are right and wrong. (eg the loneliness of the said two friends). The reason that’s selfish, even though they’re often matters that don’t relate directly to me, is that it is trying to influence people’s decisions according to my personal view. Although a lot of us do this, on a smaller scale… I just do it a disgraceful amount because I have too much time on my hands XD
        (as acts of generosity not all of mine have manipulative aims, for example I sponsor a dog through Dog’s Trust and I’m more of a cat person… just wanted to clear that up in case I sounded like some evil queen or something XD)
        Selfishness can be good, because it can teach you to stand up for yourself – a crucial step towards standing up for others, maybe? It can also help teach you to discern between people who need and people who are just taking advantage. Although selfishness will not teach you cooperation and love and how to be a good friend or good to the environment et c.

      • Wow, you said quite a bit (that’s great).

        So what I would say is try stepping back and not manipulating all the time. We all do sometimes, but it might be healthier for you to not try and control everything, and instead focus on yourself and your own progress (perhaps in accepting things in general). I don’t think you’re an evil queen, I just think you’re letting your natural tendencies take over a bit too much, and you regret it and call yourself manipulative.

        Grat answer, and I can see that I got you thinking… stick around for tomorrow where I post my response piece to my own question.

  10. I believe that there’s no such thing as a “selfless” person. All we do serves ourselves, even by helping others. By helping others, you gain the satisfaction of helping another person, thus making you feel better. I’m not saying that people do this on purpose. Even I sometimes like to think that I am a selfless person, but when I deeply think about it, I see that a part of me did that good deed just for my benefit. The benefit of feeling good about something I did. In my opinion, we are all selfish creatures, we always look for our best interest.

      • I believe there are. I mean there are different “degrees” of selfishness, depending on how the person expresses his/her own selfishness.
        There are people who express their selfishness by helping a great number of people. Others call them “selfless” (but I don’t, for the reasons I have stated earlier).
        Then there are people who are selfish as in they only do things that would directly benefit them. They don’t see the possible rewards that would come from helping others. Others call them “mean”, “selfish”, “greedy” and so on. I think that “mean” people usually have higher self-esteem, and that “selfless” people are usually people with lower self-esteem (again, this is just my opinion).
        In the end, I think that we are all equally selfish, it just depends on how we express it.

      • You seem like a really open-minded person, and I’m really happy that you’re commenting. I would disagree, though, that we are all equally selfish, because I think there are different levels of selfishness, albeit there always has to be some selfishness somewhere. It’s like saying Gandhi and Hitler were equally selfish. I just can’t come to accept that.

        Also, I think it’s a bit too much of a generalization to say that those that help others have less self-esteem than those that are “mean”. Because I think meanness is often mistaken in those that are unhappy and are acting our in ways to receive attention (even if it the bad kind) and are not at all necessarily of higher self-esteem.

      • I agree, it was a bit of a generalization. As for Gandhi and Hitler, I wouldn’t compare them because I don’t think that Hitler was entirely sane. Other than that, I would like to see how you differentiate between the levels of selfishness that you mentioned.

      • I separate the kinds of selfishness based on the energy behind the actions. It is a very different kind of selfishness when you’re helping others to make yourself feel good, than when you are collecting and withholding something from others so that they may not have access (it could make you feel powerful, you could do it to have revenge, etc. But it’s all about selfishness). The energy behind the two is different, although they both root from the same place.

      • If there is a man and a woman (or more than one of each). The man / men should know the importance of the woman coming first (in the bedroom, on the first occasion, at a minimum).

        If the man is with a man, it doesn’t really matter.

        After that first occasion, it doesn’t matter. Whatever suits them.

        In a few years it may not matter, society is forever changing, but that’s the way it seems to be today.

  11. If you don’t love yourself- how can you possible love others? If you don’t take care of yourself first, how can you be there long term for your loved ones? I also have to add in refernce to child rearing. If mom’s don’t take care of themselves they are not teaching their children that caring for oneself is important. I certainly don’t categorize this as selfish…how about “survival of the fittest”

  12. I think that it’s human nature to think of yourself first, so the world would function much differently if everyone was putting the needs of others before the needs of themselves. I agree with this way of life, because you cannot depend on others for your necessities. You’re living YOUR life, so get your needs met and try to live the life you desire. However, I do believe that a certain amount of care and empathy for others is required to create a peaceful world, an amount many people are missing in today’s narcissistic society.

  13. My belief is that we are not capable of self disinterest. Even the most kind and loving acts to others are acts of at least partial self interest. The idea that it is possible to not have self interest is rooted in the perception that we are separate. What we do to others, we do to ourselves, inescapably. The self interest however, could be healthy or unhealthy, serving or hindering, both self and others. The other perception this myth of self disinterest is rooted in is that the self is bad. ‘Selfishness’ is another word for ‘bad.’ And If we trace that one back, it is rooted in another false perception: the separation or the split between matter and spirit.

    I’m really glad to see this one coming up for air in our species! Thanks for the great
    topic. Looking forward to seeing your piece tomorrow!

    • Absolutely! I’m excited to write it now. And I also share your belief that we are all connected, and thus we are not “bad” and the universe (from which we are so tightly connected with) is not “bad”. Great comment!

  14. I completely agree and I would consider myself moderately selfish, but then I just think it’s really more a matter of being overly self absorbed with my own problems and whatnot. I am currently working on shifting that focus from myself a bit more to others.

  15. I think people are naturally inclined toward either selfishness or selflessness. Society also plays a role: girls are socialized to put others’ needs before their own more commonly than boys, whereas boys are encouraged to be the masters of their domains. The challenge as a 21st century adult woman is finding a balance between respecting others’ needs and reverencing my selfhood. Knowing when and when not to compromise is key — and its not always easy to know.

  16. We are one. When we perceive ourselves as separate or alone we sometimes get lost. Perhaps you could say nourish yourself so that you can be in a position to nourish others.

  17. People should look out for each other… They should be “running partners” in life to encourage each other and push each other on. With this outlook, they can also find worth in themselves and feel good about who they are, which isnt selfish at all, in my opinion. So I say, both.

  18. No one looks out for others enough, and at the same time, some don’t look out for themselves enough either do they? It’s definitely a fine line, I know I have struggled with it every single day as a mom, a woman, a PERSON. Do what you can for others always, and yet, somehow, do not neglect yourself, because if you do, then how can you be any help to any other? 🙂
    This coming from a girl who usually puts herself last, but you know what? Seeing others happy makes ME happy, and that’s awesome.
    Great topic, thanks for sharing.

  19. Hello and congratulations for this wonderful blog, I am amazed at your depth, so young… thanks also for stopping by my own blog. Funnily I wrote a post about Selfishness recently.
    Now to answer your question, “you” and “the others” are the same! Others are solely reflections of yourself… You see, life is a like a dream. In a dream, all characters are “you” since they come from your mental creation, aren’t they? Well “in life”, it is the same. Everything around you is you. And this includes people. Now the best gift you can give the world is your own awakening (but I see you are working at it…!). And oddly that might imply having a somehow selfish looking attitude on some levels… Think about it, couldn’t Buddha’s wife complain that her husband was abandoning her and their son to meditate? And even some of his family members disapproved Jesus’ ways… But we could hardly define Buddha and Jesus as selfish, could we?
    Simply bear in mind that ultimately there is only One of us, One consciousness and then whatever you do will be out of Love (for yourself and “the others”). But I am sure you would have got there by yourself, as you are already amazingly aware…
    Peace to you.

  20. Pingback: Love means we are equal « alootka

  21. Helping others always makes me feel good about myself but first I think we should start with ourselves and then spread it to others .. it’s all about balancing between me and them. But I think i’m such a selfless person, I like to help others and be there for them even If I have my own issues ! especially my family, they come first ! 😀

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