Being selfish – chapter 3

The power of one

(this is a very self-indulgent title, maybe it will change)

Forgive the essentially cheesy title. But – the significance of achieving goals, advancing as a sole entity in the modern world and the historical weight of the martyr – seemed a little long-winded and wordy. In hindsight…. Nope, I am sticking to it.

A martyr is a strong thing. The biblical black sheep. History, film, science, literature and popular culture are littered with these lone figures: people, who have fought, pioneered and led the way to new way. This fact is no doubt in the forefront of many minds; this idea that not only that the ‘big break’ exists, but that if it is achieved solo; you are cemented in history forever. Essentially this is a question of self-preservation, cultivating a legacy that surpasses one’s self. Whilst many approach this yearning (either consciously or subconsciously) through the cultivation of family (you could possibly see this as both a selfish and unselfish act) some will seek to fortify their place in the world through achievements (whilst this isn’t definitely a selfish act, it would depend on the individuals intention of the act – if they wanted nothing more than to make the world a better place, this would imply altruism, or if they wanted people to know that they made the world a better place: this begins to lean towards narcissism).

 “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.’’ Ray Bradbury Farenheit 451

I use this quote as a prime example – legacy is important, or at least perceived as important, what would happen if our time on this world was a waste of time?

“Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom”(Mahatma Ghandi)

Naturally humans are drawn to power and prestige. Drawn to an eternal. Drawn by the promise of an infinite influence, I believe this drive exists in more people than just the archetypal arch nemesis on your favourite marvel movie. Now this drive, to be in effect immortal (in the sense of being remembered) could be seen as a conscious selfish act – if the act or purpose has the sole intention of being only for the gain of the individual. With any residual positive effect in the community is disregarded and unimportant then this odd self-sacrifice, in aid of self-advancement is no doubt a selfish decision.  (Even if it seems to exist as a misnomer).

“The martyr sacrifices themselves entirely in vain. Or rather not in vain; for they make the selfish more selfish, the lazy more lazy, the narrow narrower.” (Florence Nightingale)

Surely whatever the act, the intention behind it is where the true meaning is created.

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”(Soren Kierkegaard, Danish Philosopher )

The issue with describing this act or person as a martyr is in the definition of a martyr. As in, if the person in question is consciously ‘deciding’ to be a martyr, wouldn’t that, in effect, negate their status as a martyr?

This seems like a strange tangent to the idea of selfishness. However, I believe the point I was aiming at is that the unwavering ambition to advance the self, even if it means self-destruction could be seen as the most narcissistic act (obviously when undertaken in a conscious manner. No real martyr believes they are so, or aims to become one before the fact). The awareness beyond the present self, of the importance of the memory of the self creates a new dynamic to the act of being selfish.

And now I think I have rambled myself into confusion.


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