Building a Better Body (Part 3): The Selfish Art
When fitness first began gaining prominence, it had the stigma of being a vain pursuit for narcissists and wackos. To this day, the effort to build a phenomenal physique is usually accompanied by seemingly outlandish behaviors like carrying full meals around, or standing in front of a mirror contorting yourself into unnatural positions. From the outside, it can seem like an odd pursuit; and it doesn’t appear to offer much value to society in general. In fact, it’s easily misconstrued as a self-serving attempt to overcome insecurities and become “better than” everyone else.
On a superficial level, bodybuilding is definitely self-centered - nobody else gets a better body from your workouts. But does this necessarily imply that there is no cross-over benefit to society? With a broader view, it becomes clear that that fitness holds great potential for societal benefit, and to prove it, we need to examine the value of rational self-interest…
Before we proceed, let’s establish a delineation between two distinct ideas. The word selfishness can be used to describe an attitude of self-interest accompanied by a blatant disregard for others; including seeking personal benefit at the purposeful expense of other people.
By contrast, the term self-regard can be used in reference to a healthy concern for self as the primary motivation for most actions, though with the underlying intent to also create benefit for others (where possible), or at least not contribute to their detriment.
Some notions of morality (as well as cultural pretexts), seem to imply that self-sacrifice is a virtue. To take action solely for the benefit of the self is viewed as a less lofty motivation than acting for the benefit of others. The hypocrisy of this notion lies in the fact that this standard is generally more strictly imposed upon others than upon those who promulgate it most fervently:
“I’m asking you to please pick me up at the airport, and you’re refusing because you’re watching a movie? How can you be so selfish?!”
This example represents a common sentiment, and one that is quite ironic. Evaluating this rationally, the request that someone inconvenience themselves to offer more convenience to you could just as easily be described as selfish, could it not? Whose convenience is more important?
The point here is not to dissuade anyone from putting aside their own comfort to help a friend; but rather to examine the reasoning, particularly as it relates to assumptions and accusations. The reason why this backwards logic works more often than it fails is because the guilt trip has at its basis the widely-accepted notion alluded to above - if you are a “good” person, then your regard for others should be greater than the regard for yourself. To be selfless is to be moral.
The problem is that the prescribed approach is contrary to man’s survival; individually, and on the whole. In our modern day world of comfort and convenience, we have lost sight of the many fundamental truths of mankind; the most instrumental of which is self-regard as a primary motivation. If taken to its logical conclusion, the premise of putting others first would be disastrous to humanity…
A hunter, who killed and butchered his prey, then gave all the food away so that others may enjoy a bountiful meal, leaving none for himself, would only be of use to society for a few days; after which time he would be dead in a ditch for lack of sustenance. He could not procreate to further the species; he could not provide further benefit to the tribe; he could not contribute to the advancement of humanity.
If this idea was taken to its ultimate logical conclusion, then as the hunter delivered the food to the tribe, each person would sacrifice their own needs and pass all the food to the next person in line. The following person would do the same, and the next person the same, until the whole tribe was engaged in an ill-fated game of hot potato whereby food gets passed around until it becomes rancid, and every member of the tribe falls dead from exhaustion and starvation.
Clearly, man must have a healthy regard for himself in order to survive, and to be of potential benefit to anyone else. We needn’t traverse the long distance back to man’s origin to see this truth in action; we can examine this premise in contemporary terms. A stingy rich man, who spent his whole life procuring wealth for himself (via morally-sound practices), does more good for humanity spending a fraction of his wealth in normal trade than a charitable poor man who never gave sufficient attention to his own success and now donates 100% of his paltry life savings. You can’t give what you don’t have, and so creating a life of abundance in all areas is the first step to serving humanity.
Sacrificing your own needs so that another can benefit is no more appropriate than sacrificing their needs to fulfill your own. If we relate this idea to mathematics (numerical logic), it becomes quite clear:
Let’s denote each person in a given social interaction with the number “2” and allow the equation “2 + 2 = 4” to represent the interaction between two people, with “4” symbolizing the result of that interaction.
If we lessen our own position to improve that of another – the self-sacrifice approach - then “1 + 3 = 4” becomes our new equation. We have been nearly depleted, the other has been improved, but the end result is the same: we have not added value to the world.
Likewise, the selfish approach whereby we improve our own position at another’s expense creates the equation “3 + 1 = 4” and again, we’ve added no value.
In these terms, it is clear that not only is there no difference in the fundamental quality of these two equations (one is not more beneficial than the other), but also that whether we act from selfish or self-sacrificial motives, no net improvement can be made overall.
To create overall improvement, we must add value to the equation. We can better ourselves alone, but without depleting others, as in “3 + 2 = 5” or we can better others without depleting ourselves, such that “2 + 3 = 5”. In either case, we have added value and achieved overall improvement of some sort.
Do you see how even by creating benefit for ourselves alone, we have added value to the whole, even if we did nothing to directly improve the situation of another? After all, we are a human on this planet just like the other person, and whether we derive the benefit or they do, humanity is uplifted to an equal degree.
Of course, the optimal social interaction in all cases is win-win. If we can improve both parties, then the resulting “3 + 3 = 6” would obviously represent the best case scenario. However, even if we spend part of our time focusing exclusively on ourselves (and this is the preferred course of action, as we will discuss in the near future), we can still contribute meaningfully to the betterment of the whole.
Of all possible approaches, proceeding with the intent to create value by improving oneself while not depleting another is the most efficient and effective, for the following reason: it is the only approach offering total benefit AND over which we have complete control.
More on this next time, but for now…
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If you missed the previous articles in this series, you can find them here: