Selfish v. Self-Centered

When I use the word selfish what comes to mind?

As I am about to get nitpicky with words, let us start with a definition...

Interestingly, selfish is defined as, "caring only for oneself." Why is this interesting you might ask? This is because I do not know anyone who uses the word “selfish” in this manner. Instead, the word is tossed around within any context of doing what one wants.

You want spend your time that way? That’s selfish

You want to spend your money that way? That’s selfish

You want to avoid those obstacles? That’s selfish.

I’m here to argue that the word selfish needs to be defined according to it’s use and should simply mean, doing what one wants. This of course frees us all up to be selfish in every moment of every day. It cannot be any other way. Who among us has ever done anything that we did not want to do?

Maybe right now you are leaning back into your chair thinking, “I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, you stupid ass.” And that may very well be the case. But that is not what you did. You did, in fact, get out of bed this morning (unless of course you are reading this very post from bed). Why? I’m not sure.

Maybe you wanted to show up for your exam. Maybe you wanted another dollar in your pocket. Maybe you wanted to provide for your family. Maybe you wanted to run into that cutie on the train. Whatever your reasons, you acted according to what you wanted. This may be a tautological argument but as I’m clearly playing word games here, I’ll press forward undeterred.

So if we can only do what we want and to be selfish means doing what one wants, why then should we be against being selfish? It’s only an -ish after all. We seem to not be terribly offended when people are cheapish, sickish, freakish, bookish, girlish, standoffish, or Danish for that matter. What we really want to avoid is caring only for ourselves. This is of course brings us back to the formal definition of selfish, but not the colloquial usage. The word we are really looking for is self-centered.

And here we arrive at the important distinction between selfish and self-centered. Self-centered puts you in the middle, serving as the only object of importance in your life. Selfish does not. If you are being self-centered, you are being selfish but being selfish does not require one to be self-centered. It requires only that we act according to our desires, which our biology and reason dictates we must.

But how does doing only what you want not put you on the fast track to self-centeredness? By choosing to want the right things of course...