On Selfishness, Fear, and Control

It was a busy day at the restaurant. The place was packed and the kitchen could not keep up; a weekend scene with 5-year-olds at the zoo could have looked more serene. And it was my lucky day, I just had to have the biggest table with the most important people.

“Right now, I don’t care whose fault it was. I just want to get the problem fixed,” was what my manager said when I asked him if it was my fault. I wanted to face the wall and bash my head on it from shame. That was already more than a year ago, but I could still remember how embarrassed I was for asking the worst question that could possibly be raised. I had to make sure I was not going to be accountable despite the fact that when I was worrying about my credibility, other things mattered more. It was like a scene from a movie, the whole world slowed down when I realized this, and a cold gust of wind blew across my face to signal me that I had to get started on fixing the problem.

Everyone clings to a certain degree of selfishness. It is primeval, a survival instinct. The process of evolution would collapse if species did not desire to be preserved. Therefore, shouldn’t harboring selfishness be a good thing? Not so much. Unfortunately, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, humans have been creating the most complex varieties of relationships and societies possible. We think more than necessary, beyond our need for basic survival. Even we classify ourselves as Homo sapiens, a taxonomy which translates to wise man in the English language. One look at Maslow’s pyramid will tell you that while most species are only driven to secure the first two (sometimes, three) levels, humans hanker for something more.

Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs (image from Wikipedia)

We belong to an organized group that is based on shared written and unwritten rules, and each of us are expected to behave in such a way that we benefit the existence of the rest of our species. Though there are other social animals, we are several notches above them in this concept. Because, unlike them, we think too much.

When I asked my manager that question, I had several things going on in my mind. I had to make sure it was not my fault– because I wanted to assure myself that I did nothing to disappoint both my guests and my superiors, because I wanted to assure myself that I have not done anything stupid enough to find myself jobless the next day, and, simply, to assure myself that I have not done anything stupid. I was so worried about myself that I did not even realize how inappropriate my question was for the moment. Selfishness comes in so many forms that we hardly even recognize it. Simply put, I did not even realize that what I was doing was already selfishness in itself. I was thinking too much about myself, which brings us to how our ability to think can be as detrimental as it can be beneficial.

We have established the reality that people can become selfish because of self-preservation. We desire things so we could create the ideal future for ourselves (and also for those individuals that we care deeply enough about). Desire is good because we need to survive, but when this goes over the top, desire turns to greed. Then, we start to defeat the purpose of selfishness for the survival of the rest of our kind. Greed means acquiring more than what is necessary. More of money, more of food and water, more of power, more of attention, and less for everyone else. But why does this happen? How can a person turn so selfish? People become greedy because they fear the future. (Ah, fear, the cause of all things vile on this planet.) A man wants more so he could have security of wealth and emotions– to assure himself that he will not starve and be unhappy, and to assure himself that he has enough control to earn the respect of society. A person fears because he thinks and makes himself believe that nothing is obvious enough so he could have faith in future certainties– that is, he thinks too much and, sometimes, too ahead.

But because we are thinking animals, we also have the ability to tame our minds at our own disposal, i.e. we can become the master of ourselves if we decide to. So here is how you get over that fear. At one point in your life, you will have to admit to yourself that you spend too much time dwelling on the bad things. Accept this. Accept that you dwell, that you think too much, that your thoughts drive your decisions. And that is exactly how you overcome your fear. Fear is an emotion (in fact, fear, hate, anger, love, and every thing else), emotions are thoughts, and those thoughts are in your head, thoughts that you own and thoughts that you have perfect control over.

Control your thoughts, and you control your fears.

One hot summer day in UP Diliman.

I will probably be posting a gazillion pictures in the following weeks to reminisce my travel escapades in the past couple of months. I feel like I have not written enough about what I have been up to. This journal is supposed to be a documentation of my life, after all.

Today’s lesson: Take control.

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6 thoughts on “On Selfishness, Fear, and Control

  1. Now, I definitely have to take a closer look at Maslow’s studies.

    Many people are indeed very self-righteous, and we see this everyday, especially if you work in the service industry. It also actually depends on what kind of culture a certain individual was brought up in. Based on my experience, Westerners have a higher ‘sense of entitlement’ than Southeast Asians.

    Thank you for your visit! It is incredibly flattering to receive a compliment from such a great writer like you! I will be watching your talk on TED again to remind me of the good and bad in life.

  2. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering. – Yoda 🙂 Kagayun man sini na article mo ate najo.

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