Monday, August 25, 2008

He was a Special Guy! Or, the Virtues of Selfishness

He still is!
by Charlie Leck

A friend I hadn’t seen in an awfully long time phoned this week. We first met nearly 54 years ago. It was great to chat and we went on for some time. Now, with contact information, we’ll probably communicate more often. And, I’m going to take a little trip in September to visit with him.

He was a high school classmate. We graduated together 50 years ago. He was a free spirit. He didn’t like being confined to personality types. He strove to be unique and he was, and probably still is, difficult to define.

He was a good debater who slipped out of bounds occasionally and broke the rules in our formal debate competitions. It confounded his opponents and threw them off their game. He has a tremendously quick wit and he can use it so extemporaneously and smoothly that it often startles people.

Now he talks of his failure to contribute a whole bunch to the world. “If I had 68 years to redo… starting from here… I think I’d make better decisions.”

Pal, join the club. That is something we all start thinking about at this age. Why didn’t I do this? Or that? Why was I so selfish and concerned with my own needs and desires?

Man is basically a selfish being. He seeks first to take care of himself and satisfies the needs and cravings he feels within himself before he does anything else.

A lot of people don’t have the guts to admit this selfish nature of their existence. I admired my friend for admitting it so openly.

I’m attracted to Ayn Rand’s views on selfishness and her description of selfishness as a virtue. Our own well-being, she argues, “is man’s ultimate value.” Her essays, On the Virtue of Selfishness, argue that one of man’s primary goals should be to protect one’s own life and happiness and thus attain one’s own well-being and a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life.

It does not necessarily follow that such regard for one’s own happiness and fulfillment is a disregard for the health and happiness of others; but, rather, such self-fulfillment makes one more capable of acting in ways that will be beneficial to others.

That one feels a sense of failure, that one could have acted more beneficently, is the sign of a good and healthy person. The man who doesn’t feel this sense of failure is the really self-absorbed person – and probably a sociopath.

I sometimes cringe at the mistakes I’ve made in life – that I turned one way forty years ago rather than another – but this feeling is always tempered by those I have around me, whom I love so dearly and much. Had I made that turn, back then, they would not be here today, surrounding me. They are the glorious, wonderful results of my errors and missteps. Exactly a year ago, I wrote at some length about just this subject in a blog I called: “Regrets? I’ve had a few!”

I wrote the following back to my old friend: “There is no one keeping score on what we contribute and what we don't, buddy... no one… and no great scorekeeper in the sky is doing it either. We're the only ones to keep score on ourselves... just satisfy yourself… and you’ll be a healthier person.”

How do you begin contributing to the world? I’ll take my cue from Ayn Rand. Begin by taking terribly good care of yourself. Be healthy in mind and body! Don’t be in need! Then, when you are at that stage, you are ready to turn toward others and make healthy and helpful contributions.

"Old friend, you are correct to believe you are special; for you are. No one else was born just like you!"

And, more importantly, your uniqueness is extraordinary. You were blessed with a quick and productive mind. You have a sense of humor so witty and startling that only a few men could handle it. You can! Your sense of sarcasm is not a weakness. It is a blessing, because it comes buttered and sugared with humor.

I am not worried about you making contributions in life. The way you relate to people is contribution enough. You say the right things and you ask the right questions.

My only suggestion, if one is even called for, is that you take what’s best about you – your incredible wit – and use it in every positive way you can. True, most of our years are behind us – way behind us. It doesn’t matter if we have only a few days left. Take those wonderful tools you have and infect other people with them. Make them smile. Make them feel better. Make them feel more hopeful. It’s your unique gift. I wish I had it.

Forget about the last 68 years. Concentrate on the next few days. What’s done is done! The turns we made are too far back down the mountain as we climb progressively toward the stars; and we can’t go back and try the other fork or another direction anyway.

Here I am in this place that is uniquely mine. And, I am uniquely me! I am left without other choices. I can only be what I am.

I think this: Among all those guys in our graduating class 50 years ago, you were one of the most unique and special. Nothings’ changed. You still are.

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