Selfish + Selfless

The discussions I have in my head while running seem to always circle back to this “window of opportunity”, of which I’m calling this period between my last surgery and the next, where I’m currently not on chemo and the ravages of such a treatment aren’t building up and holding me back. When the fatigue of the miles build up and my motivation momentarily wanes, I keep sight of this “window of opportunity”, reminding myself why I am out here running…because I can be out here running, and likely, there will again come a time when I can’t be out here running.

And so I am compelled to make the most of this window of opportunity, to run and keep running, to continue building the most rewarding life I can manage, to build…something great. I toy with the idea of “creating heaven right now”, but that feels more an insult than a motivation. There is no heaven (or hell for that matter), just the “utopia” and “ideal” we create in our minds, taken to it’s extreme. We should instead, recognize what we have in the moment and not delay any satisfaction, not hold off any reward, not wait out our days until…something else. We don’t even need to “create heaven now”, but just recognize the good life can live within the means we’ve got…and do it. In many ways, I’m trying to do that in this window of opportunity.

But this is not just about me. From the known beginnings of human existence, we have lived amongst others, as communities, as social creatures, thriving in a variety of relationships. The parameters of those “communities” and relationships have exploded into confusing, overlapping, separating forms through civilization’s dictates, but the base desire for sharing remains. We can’t shed our survival instincts as quickly as we lost our tribalism.

When I run now, it is not just about me. When I run now, it’s not only about others either. When I run now, it’s about creating the most rewarding existence by seeking some form of community, of fostering mutual aid, of being both selfish and selfless.

We have at our fingertips, the option to live in so many ways, isolated, communal, or a mixture of the two…but what best serves our interests? And what are our interests? In Western culture it is hard to ignore that we are compelled to be “self-made individuals”, independent, and isolated. We hold high regard for those who hoard, accumulate massive riches, find themselves on the top of the hierarchy of business, politics, authority, all the while told we should be striving for the same. We are compelled towards selfishness, or at least a selfishness that has been exaggerated out of control.

I appreciate selfishness. I appreciate a life with the individual at the center, the decisions driven by survival instinct, the preservation of the self. I see no harm (or alternative) in acknowledging the survival instincts coded into our genes, but it is short-sighted to believe this is our only purpose, to survive, or that our survival is not benefitted from cooperative relationships with others.

The lives we live today should be informed by selfishness, but only to an extent that we take care of ourselves first…so we can be capable of taking care of others.  When I run, it is a selfish act. I run for my benefit, for my experience, for my reward. And the way I live my life is the same, to a point. In my younger days, I lived much more selfishly, trying to take care of myself before ever considering about the possibility of taking care of others. In maturity though, I realized that degree of selfishness left me wanting, lonely, unfulfilled.

Our other option is to live selflessly, of which we are, again, enabled to do so to such exaggerated levels. We have compulsions and institutions enabling us to not just live selflessly, but to sacrifice, to lose sight of ourselves in the interests of others. We are often told to uphold selflessness to a sacred level of attainment, something to aspire, a state that derides the ego of selfishness. Selflessness is posed as enlightenment. I disagree.

Ultimate selflessness IS sacrifice, it is deprivation, it is a denial of our base desires and survival instincts for an exaggerated sense of righteousness, but it’s not a rewarding existence. We have countless examples of individuals compelled to attain complete selflessness, in service of others, from hermit-like monks, to everyday charity workers who grow increasingly frustrated, bored, and unfulfilled as they put aside personal interest for the interest of others, chasing the promise of a selflessness that is meant to be supremely rewarding, but always remains elusive.

What if there was another way to live though, that measured the two ideals against each other, that accepted the joy of selfishness with the reward of selflessness? I think, when we accept the value of both characteristics, the examples are all around us. I think, when we really evaluate our actions, we can’t deny that all we do is for ourselves…and others at the same time. We are driven by our survival instincts, to take care of ourselves, so we can give to others, and get in return.

My running, at this point, is about this mutual exchange. I have initiated this fundraising campaign for Family Reach because I have a window of opportunity, to give to others. I have the capability to live for others, but not at the expense of my happiness. Running is my daily excitement and joy, and the idea of running down the state is selfishly rewarding. It sounds awesome, exciting, and joyful. I would never deny that. It will be hard and there will be some degree of suffering, but it will never be a sacrifice. I will enjoy it. All the same, I will be doing this to give funds to an organization that will benefit individual cancer patients, offering them a sense of calm and support. I will be doing this through the generous donations of you as individuals, along with businesses and other institutions.

And in that I’m balancing the selfish and selflessness that create the most rewarding life I can live in this window of opportunity. This is my effort though. In some way, we are all capable. We can all carve out ways to live for our own interests, first and foremost, but to then figure out how to live for others all the same. Imagine a cultural dictate that did not follow the laws of a selfish economy, that compelled the individual to live a deeply rewarding life that enabled them to pursue their interests, while simultaneously serving others. I will stop at giving examples, but our capabilities are seemingly endless.

In this moment, my desire to run benefits my health, fills each day with a dose of excitement, satisfaction and experience, but also compels me to build this fundraising campaign, to prepare for my Ultra Run in August, and to feel rewarded by knowing I’m helping to make the burdens of others significantly lessened in the process. I’m bringing friends and strangers along with me, offering the opportunity for them to help with a small contribution, a tiny moment out of their day.

But ultimately, I want to compel every friend and stranger who reads my words, hears me speak, and follows along, to find a way to build their own life in similar ways, to be selfish for the sake of selflessness, to engage with a larger community…to simply be better, to do good.

We all have a window of opportunity, whether it’s moments within our lives, or simply our lives themselves…let’s make the most of it.


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