So. As you might have aptly guessed from the title, it’s time for yet another one of my introspective posts!
(BTW, I’m pretty sure that you must be pissed at this. Because an ‘introspective’ post obviously means that you will have to pay active attention to what I’m saying and not just sit back in your comfy armchair as I narrate you some story in the voice of a third person. But trust me when I say that it’ll be worth it in the end. Or maybe not. In which case you can feel free to sue me!)
And this time it’s entirely my creation. Well, not entirely, actually. For, as usual, I have borrowed bits and pieces of inspiration from sources which I will be revealing as we proceed through the post.
Let’s get started. Shall we?
Well, the topic that we are going to discuss today has been made pretty obvious in the title itself.
In simple words, this post is going to revolve around the two most common suffixes that we add to the word self. Which are ‘-ish’ and ‘-less’.
To get a better idea of what I have in mind, I am going to narrate (or rather copy-paste) a scene from the famous sitcom, FRIENDS , which proved to be the spark that ignited this post in me.
Relieved? Me too! Because that means less work for me and more entertainment for you! 😅
(Note:- The below mentioned scene has been obtained and edited from Season 5, episode 4 of FRIENDS titled ‘The one where Phoebe hates PBS’ . It’s NOT an exact replica, for it has been modified a bit for convenience. Read the original script here . )
Joey: Guess what?
Joey: I finally have a job!
Joey: Yeah. I’m doing this telethon thing on TV and my agent got me a job as co-host! A little uh, good deed for PBS and a little TV exposure, now that’s the kind of math Joey likes to do!
(End of scene)
Okay. Alright. Now it’s time to wake up from your peaceful slumber. Because from this moment on, I’m going to need your active participation.
(Doesn’t matter either ways. ‘Cuz I’m not gonna wait, you know…)
So we heard their debate. Or rather, the argument. Now, what do we make of it? As in who is right? Is it Joey? Or is it Phoebe?
If I am guessing correctly, the majority of you will vote for Phoebe thinking that selfless good deeds indeed exist. Well, team Phoebe, I’d like you to think again. For now we are going to read what happened next in the episode. And in the end, I am pretty sure that you will be forced to reconsider your opinion.
1. She went over to her neighbour’s house and raked the leaves on his front stoop so as to help the old man residing there. But then she realised that while doing so, she felt good about herself. So it wasn’t selfless anymore. And hence that went down the drain.
Distraught, Phoebe was forced to accept that ‘selfless’ good deeds simply didn’t exist.
Hmm. Now. Do you guys still root for Phoebe? Or have you realised that Joey does have a point?
Personally, I think that neither of them is quite correct. But nor are they completely wrong.
For the truth actually lies somewhere in between…..
(Yeah, I know. That’s very typical of me. Just bear with it, alright? This’ll only take a couple of minutes 😅)
What do I mean?
Before we come to that, let’s bust a myth so that the picture becomes clearer.
A. The myth.
I guess almost everyone reading this post genuinely believes that the world is made up of only two kinds of people.
Selfish and Selfless.
Sadly, you couldn’t be more wrong.
For no human who has ever lived on this planet has been either.
See, it’s pretty simple.
You came to life.
That’s it. It’s over. Congratulations. You are now neither selfish nor selfless.
Find yourself at sea?
Let me explain.
To be honest, the game was over even before you were born. It was over the moment you were conceived.
For at that very moment, you ended up giving happiness to your parents. Happiness in the knowledge that they had created something as simple yet as miraculous as life. And you, my friend, had really nothing to gain from it.
That made you selfless.
Yet…. Yet…. For the next 9 months you were nothing but a parasite living inside your mother’s womb. Obtaining nutrition from her blood and giving away the waste. Not caring about the impact it had on your mother’s body.
That made you selfish. Really selfish.
(Dear mothers and babies – if they can read. I really don’t mean to hurt your feelings. Nor do I want to equalise foetuses and parasites. So pray don’t think of me as a heartless psychopath. For I’m not. Just stay put and you’ll realise why… 😅😊)
Well…. if we are neither really selfish, nor really selfless…
Then what are we?
B. The reality.
In order to explain this, I’m going to take help of a couple of my own posts which I had written a while ago named – The movie called life
& it’s sequel The movie called life: Unabridged
Back in those posts, I had said that though we all really like to paint ‘The big picture’ in our lives, the truth is that any picture is in fact made up of millions of miniscule components called ‘pixels’. And it’s these pixels that collectively make a picture what it truly is.
The very same concept applies to our personalities. We cannot be only ‘selfish’ or only ‘selfless’ simply because it’s not just one thing that decides who we are. It’s millions of ’em. And our every act takes us only a wee bit closer to the either side of the scale.
(Note:- The image above and the references in relation to it are purely meant for explaining a concept. It’s my sincere request to you guys to pray not derive ANY racist interpretation from the same. Thank you.)
Just like this image above, we all lie in a spectrum. None of us is complete white. But nor is anyone ever truly black. We are all grey. Literally infinite shades of grey.
(Yup. And not just fifty.)
Puns aside, the fact remains that our personality is like a palette. And our every act is like the stroke of a brush. Ever changing the ultimate picture of who we really are.
With this in mind, we are now ready to face the question I had posed before we began this discussion.
Do selfless good deeds exist?
And the answer is….
For the very reason why our lives as a whole can’t be either selfish or selfless is also the one responsible for any given act to be neither completely selfish nor completely selfless.
It’s a very primitive yet fundamental rule of the universe.
That nothing in this world can ever exist without it’s counterpart. Everything comes to being only as a duality.
Angels have demons. Predators have prey. Electrons have protons.
Hell even the most powerful force in this universe, the black hole is believed to have a counterpart. The white hole.
So how can we mortals stand a chance?
Our each and every act has both a selfish and as well as a selfless component.
Let’s take an example. Take a deep breath.
And now, exhale it out.
There. You have done it.
Done an act that’s both selfish as well as selfless.
For when you inspired, you inhaled oxygen for your own personal gain. So that was pretty selfish of you.
But immediately thereafter, when you exhaled, you gave away carbon dioxide to the plants who utilised it to produce energy for their own survival. So that was quite selfless of you. You should be proud!
My point here is of course not to discourage you from breathing, (an act, which I hope that you don’t ever stop doing), but to make you realise that if an act as primitive as breathing can have both a selfish and a selfless component, it’s reasonable to presume that any act could be divided into such similar components.
Into black and white.
And this is exactly why we can’t be selfless.
For how can we paint a white when all that our palette has is grey?
Yet, yet there’s still a fundamental difference between Joey’s act and Phoebe’s. The very reason which makes Phoebe’s act relatively selfless and Joey’s act seemingly selfish in comparison. The reason that makes Phoebe a lighter shade of grey than Joey.
The reason that there are infinite shades of grey. And not just one.
So what’s that?
C. The middle ground
Now this is where we turn to the second source of inspiration behind this post.
A series of novels titled the ‘Shiva Trilogy’ written by the famous Indian author, Amish Tripathi .
In it’s third and final book titled, ‘The Oath of the Vayuputras’ , the author has elaborated on a concept which goes like this:-
People in this world can be only of two types. Either they can be selflessly selfish. Or they can be selfishly selfless.
Sounds like a nonsensical wordplay?
Believe me, it’s not. Because the order in which these words appear carry paramount importance. In fact, that’s the thing that makes all the difference.
The answer is pretty simple.
For it’s purely grammatical.
(Brings back bitter memories from the past? Me too!)
The word which comes first is the one that will describe our act, the adverb, to be precise. While the word that’ll follow is going to be our ‘action/deed’ i.e. the verb.
When we call an act as selfishly selfless, it implies that one is doing an act which will benefit others ONLY because it benefits himself/herself first. Or rather, one does a so-called good act with the sole purpose of it supporting their own private agenda.
Like our dear Joey, who goes for a charity telethon simply because he gets to be on TV and gets paid for it. His actual motive wasn’t to be of benefit to the society. But even then he does end up collecting money for the needy, doesn’t he?
And that is what makes his act selfishly selfless.
On the other hand, our dear Pheebs takes care of her brother’s children not because it makes her happy, but because it gives her brother some reprieve. The happiness which she obtains is actually just a byproduct of her genuine selfless interest.
In short, it’s an act done for the benefit of others while deriving pleasure from it simply because of it’s selfless nature. And that’s why Phoebe’s act becomes a selflessly selfish act.
In the end, both were selfish and yet both were selfless in their own ways. But one performed the act simply to derive pleasure while one derived pleasure simply because they performed the act.
And that’s what really matters, my friends.
We are humans. Meaning that we are doomed to be grey for life. But the one thing that we can do or rather, we should do is to learn to derive pleasure from pleasing others.
In this world of ever increasing importance of self, and the ever growing magnitude of the ‘I’, we have all but forgotten the ‘us’. The very basic fact that happiness can in fact be obtained by simply making others smile. That laughter is indeed contagious.
So today, why don’t we take a pledge? A pledge to put the ‘us’ ahead of the ‘i’, a pledge to do an act not because it benefits us or makes us feel good, but because it bears the potential of making the other smile.
We know we can’t ever be truly selfless. That we can’t ever be truly white. But I am positive that if we try…..
We’ll get close enough. 😊