• Friday, May 24, 2024
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The selfish that’s good

selfish (1)

As the head of the electricity committee in my residential estate’s association, receiving praise and commendations for what fellow residents regarded as a job well done, by ensuring our electricity service provider lived up to its commitments to us, was quite a common occurrence. As much as I enjoyed all the encomiums poured on me for the little contributions to making things work as they really should; and I won’t lie, I very happily lapped up all the praise, it was often tinged with a little bit of guilt too. Not because I wasn’t as diligent as people believed I was; and the hapless Undertaking Manager, who my itchy fingers were ever ready to call will certainly vouch for the diligence with which I carried out my duties.

Any little fault or even suspicion of a fault and I was on her like plaster on skin. I can confidently bet that she must have had regular nightmares of receiving phone calls or messages from Dapo Akande. Don’t blame me, I just can’t help it. I’m someone who can’t rest or take my mind off something that I want to be done until it’s been done. I get a real “bee in my bonnet” about things and can’t rest until the issue has been satisfactorily resolved or the repair has been done etc. I’ve often been compared to a Yorkshire terrier which relentlessly gnaws at your feet and ankles until you have no choice but to attend to it. Until then, it simply won’t stop.

Back to the guilt. It’s because I knew I was doing it as much for myself as I was doing it for my fellow residents. No matter how it may have appeared to them, judging by the level of praise I received, my motive wasn’t entirely altruistic. It was a matter of enlightened self-interest, which many of the ancient ethicists believed is the most ethically sound, as it ensures you don’t damage your own interest in the process of doing good for others. As a Christian who believes in acts of selflessness, I may not entirely agree with this but still, only the foolhardiest would disagree that enlightened self-interest is a vital ingredient to making the world go round.

Read Also: Ethics, the beginning of culture

It is arguably the most important stimuli to making things work, whether it be amongst a group of friends with disparate interests, an organisation or a society. At this juncture, I will like to point out that there is a school of philosophical thought which argues that no action is ever truly selfless. They hinge their position on an observation that everyone gets something out of any action taken. Yes, they agree that the agent may not enjoy any form of material reward, whether this is pecuniary or otherwise, but the proponents of this position argue that the reward the agent seeks may just be the euphoric feeling he gets, knowing he has done someone a good turn. For some, that may be all they need to put a smile on their face when they go to bed at night and to such a person, no other form of reward can come close. It may therefore be argued that they too got the reward they wanted. I would rather leave it to my seniors to decide if this is right or wrong but the challenge it poses to conventional thinking certainly deserves more than a passing thought.

To continue with the pragmatic virtues of enlightened self-interest, it is believed that without it, there would be very little incentive to do what’s good for anybody but yourself, because man, by the nature he adopted, is unapologetically self-centred. If it doesn’t serve his interest also, at the very least, you can forget it most of the time. He will always place his interest first. I say “adopted” because I don’t believe this is how we were from the beginning. I base this not just on my modest knowledge of what the Good Book says but also on the little enlightenment gained by way of experience. No need to raise your hands but, is there anyone out there, who after sacrificially lending a helping hand to another, found himself or herself overcome by an emotion which words fail to adequately describe? Though these may still come a little short in capturing that unique feeling; words such as fulfilment, utterly gratifying, satisfying, the purest of joy, come to mind. It’s a type of joy which can never be evoked through acquisitions or any material gain. It wells up from deep within and envelopes you completely.

Created in the image and likeness of a God who’s the ultimate giver, so were we originally created to be too; giving. And that’s why when we periodically “return” or yield to this nature, nothing compares to how good it makes us feel. I believe I’ll be speaking the mind of many when I say there are few things in this life that lend this life as much meaning or cheer one’s heart, as much as when one puts a broad and sincere smile on the face of another. The feeling one gets from this is priceless.

The sooner we recognise the supremacy of cooperative selfishness over crude selfishness, the better. This insight would teach you to back down from insisting on your own way because if you don’t, another time will come when others will do the same. It’s really just a common-sense approach which doesn’t take a Professor to recognise but sadly, our inherent selfishness just doesn’t allow us to see the obvious. More advanced nations have long recognised this and the near-perfection attained through centuries of practice has all but successfully masked, in many instances, cooperative selfishness as selflessness.

Ethics, contrary to the belief of many people is not morals in itself but the study of morals and human conduct. It seeks to set the standard to which human conduct should conform. It concerns itself with the standard of behaviour that we should institute and entrench as our collective values, for our collective good. I make bold to aver that the primary purpose of ethics is to evolve a more just society. It has as much to do with guiding those in governance to lead by example, by treading the path of good moral judgement as it does with establishing codes of conduct that would make for healthy business relations and morally sound transactions in the corporate world.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time.