Identify and eliminate selfishness and overly self-centeredness (November, 2017)

In the age of fierce competition, it seems appropriate for parents to encourage their kids to become competitive and win at all cost. But when this behavior is promoted without a wholesome understanding and moral backdrop, it often ends up also instilling a number of unfortunate qualities in kids; qualities that result in not only unfulfilled life for kids but also resentment for their parents, family members and society. These negative qualities are selfishness and self-centeredness. The topic for this month’s assignment is ‘Identify and eliminate selfishness and overly self-centeredness’.


It is important that we define and build a better understanding of these terms: competition, selfishness, and self-centeredness. Let’s start with competition. Competition is the activity or state of mind that makes us grow and become more successful. But, whether or not we are “growing” or becoming “successful” depends upon how we interpret competition. The real competition is not with others but with self. If we aspire to become better than a particular individual or situation, we may not realize our full potential. In fact, when the competition is with someone with lower capability than us, we may not have to work at all to win. But, when we compete with ourselves, we must work every moment to become better than what we are right now. While being able to compete with self is a sign of higher character, a feeling of compulsive competition shows lacks of self-confidence.


A poor understanding of competition, where the focus is always outwards, then leads one to compete with everyone and every situation. Such a person doesn’t want to share or give anything to anyone, because to him, giving and sharing mean losing. He just knows how to take without offering anything, because he thinks such a transaction is success. As this idea becomes his conviction, a behavior called selfishness becomes his second nature. That “selfish” person then does whatever it takes to serve him: if serving him means hurting others, he doesn’t hesitate.


It is ironically though that the selfish people, despite their shenanigans, never achieve lasting happiness or satisfaction. Despite acquiring objects, they live in a perpetual feeling of fear and panic because they think everyone else is more selfish and out there to steal from them. Such a feelings robs their peace of mind. In a nutshell, being selfish is a curse.


On the other hand, a person who shares and cares for others enjoys the life. He knows the joy, pleasure and fulfillment that is inherent in being fair. Our scriptures also have many examples of that show the value of selfless behaviors. For instance, in the Ramayana, Rama went to exile for 14 years. Despite all the hardships, he had satisfaction of doing the right thing. Laxman accompanied his brother, leaving behind his wife and all the amenities. He also had satisfaction of undertaking righteous path. Bharat, who stayed behind taking care of the kingdom while waiting for his brother to return, felt the joy of not falling prey to the temptation of the crown. On the other hand, Kaikeyi, Bharat’s mother, was subject to ridicule and lived a disrespectful life because of her selfish nature.


The tell-tale signs of selfish and/or self-centered behavior start to show up at an early age and it behooves us to ignore it. If a kid does not share fairly with his siblings, not offer help in house chores, or make excuses to avoid any work that doesn’t serve him directly etc., the seeds of selfishness are already sown in their innocent minds.


While selfishness is a mean quality, there is another despicable quality that we must be aware of: self-centeredness. Please note that here we aren’t talking about the self-centered state that is a meditation phase but rather of being aloof and oblivious. A self-centered person is one who even though is not vicious by nature but does not care for his surroundings either. For instance, a kid who is not selfish but does not notice all the hard work his mother puts in, does not care to offer helping hand to his father, does not offer assistance to his siblings, or does not pay attention to the needs of his friends or surroundings, is a self-centered person. Such a person is so involved and occupied with his own thoughts and needs that he fails to see the pain and hardships of others. As inconsideration is a despised quality, people generally don’t want to be in the company of self-centered persons. When Sudama met Lord Krishna, he didn’t ask for help out of his hesitation. But without Sudama’s explicit request, Lord Krishana understood the feelings of his friend and offered all the help without saying a word.


The above two awful qualities [of selfishness and self-centeredness] deprive the person of delightful experience and wholesome life a noble person enjoys. A person who works for charity, who helps his parents, who is always fair with friends and family, and who cares for well-being of others, he only knows what a perfect living is. Such a person experiences a peaceful and heavenly living on earth.


As part of the assignment, this month, kids will do the following:

  1. Define selfishness and self-centeredness
  2. Root causes and signs of these qualities
  3. Ways to fix them
  4. Real-life examples (preferably from their own life)
  5. Resolutions


As always, I am looking forward to illuminating thoughts and insights.


Best Regards,

Harsh Mendiratta🙏