Sharing honestly about self interest

I want to share really honestly with you this afternoon. My deepest concern for British society, above all other things, above domestic abuse, above crime, above loneliness and even above poverty is this… selfishness. That’s a bold statement I know, so let me unpack it a little.
Many, if not all other social and moral ills of the 21st century have their root in selfishness. To hurt another, steal from them, to fall out with them, to not share with them when we have more than we need, these are all because we put ourselves and our own needs before that of others.

I have spent a number of years, trying to help improve people’s lives. I used to do that through running a poverty fighting charity, I now do that through political and community activism. I love what I do. I love meeting the many amazing people that make up our society and community, from the homeless guy to the radio station manager, to the music promoter. I love hearing their stories, I like trying to understand their challenges or finding ways of walking with them on their journey, supporting them to get where they need to be. Something has been really troubling me though, it has for a while but I just feel like I need to air it.

Can our world, our society, our town or our region ever be all that it can be if we don’t tackle selfishness or self interest.

Can our world, our society, our town or our region ever be all that it can be if we don’t tackle selfishness or self interest. It affects everything – politics, business, family life, justice, welfare, public services, education, charity. We have become a deeply selfish generation. I am not trying to judge, I am just as much an offender as anyone else. I mostly put my own needs above that of others too. I grew up to believe this was progress. That this is how you got on. I’m beginning to wonder if I was wrong.

My friend is a music promoter. She has a huge heart for musicians and for Teesside. She is always trying to do her bit. She inspires me and I love her heart. She is more interested in the scene and in developing new talent and giving them a platform than she is about her own brand. She is rare. The music scene in Teesside is cut throat. People don’t work together. There are a lot of ego’s and a lot of cliques. This saddens me. A lot! I understand it though. It used to be the same in the voluntary sector, I saw it in the faith sector, I see it in the activist sector and the political sector. People are out to build their own empires, their own name, their own thing. They leave little room for the lifting up of others, for the giving away of some of themselves for the greater good. Some text books called it undeveloped or uneducated self-interest. But others say this is the healthy competition that is needed for society to progress, for things to get better. We achieve by being better than the person next to me. By going further.” This is what I am told. “Could Apple have achieved all that it did, if it wasn’t trying to be better than Microsoft?” they ask. “And where would we be without Apple?” Maybe sat with our families having a good old catch up and not reading this article but that is another conversation.


What I want to understand is, is this competitiveness and unashamed selfishness really the only way to build a good and strong society? Is life better now than it was ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty or even fifty years ago. I am not sure, I wasn’t alive forty years ago, but what I do know is that ‘self-first’ makes life really difficult for a music promoter in Stockton trying to do her bit for Teesside. It makes life difficult for the new homeless charity that just opened up and can’t get support because they could be competition for funding. It doesn’t work for activists who find themselves a voice because they are threat to someone else’s power or position. Has this self-first made us a less caring, more lonely, more individualised society?

Suicide, alcoholism, mental health and addiction have been on the rise for the last thirty years. Is this the sign of a stronger and better society? At what point do we stop and take a step back and begin to wonder whether we need a better way?

I am afraid I don’t have the answers, but I guess all I wanted to do was begin to ask the question. Maybe you have some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.


  • when the fabric of community and collectivity is deliberately ripped apart for ideological reasons (Trade Unions, local government, community initiatives, religious & volunteer groups & education starved of funds) then we become atomised from one another. It may have started under Mrs Thatcher, but the Left have done nothing to redress it either. As a pessimist, I am afraid I rather view the process as a ratchet which has been clicked a couple of notches and you can never go back to how it was before. Our children are exposed to rampant consumerism, bombarded by millions of images and bits of data (and unfortunately a very pernicious sexualisation through porn), how is any notion of social action supposed to take root in their souls against that welter of individualism? The phone, I-Pod and I-pad are all designed to shrink a person’s focus, to cut them off from everyone else and only to address a small screen in front of their noses.

    As an artist (a writer of fiction) I feel we have become a nation of philistines, the only thing people seem to appreciate is technology and that informs all their aspirations and desires. The drive towards individualism was a deliberate policy, designed to keep feeding the sputtering fires of Capitalism. To get folk to keep renewing and updating and purchasing all over again each year, for each new model.

    I don’t have any answers either 😦 Maybe what is happening in Greece when their economy crashed and the people there voted for something radical and different might hold out a beacon of hope. But it also risks a radical swing to even greater perniciousness to the Right (UKIP etc)

  • John John Kennedy

    This is a subject I’ve been struggling with both personally and thoughtfully over the last number of years.

    Without going into details that would illustrate my personal situation, I can wholeheartedly say that I agree with your points… Both local, regional and individual. The cogs (in society) have been turning for some time now that encourage the individual and collective sense separation thus the ‘self’.

    Your mention of Apple was uncanny as one commercial aspect of the creation of this situation is a range of highly desirable products with the “i” attached, a constant reminder to the owner that it is thier device… Or vice in some cases.

    Lik you I have volunteered and worked as local creative and it was a sad day when I noticed(didn’t take very long believe me) to see the clique emerge… As I don’t follow social cliques and openly notice and avoid them I can say it had a negative effect on me, my business and eventual own internal process.

    I noticed that during the aftermath of the so called ‘Financial Crisis’ that people became nasty, closed minded and even down right cruel in relation to the people in the media that were blamed for it… I have received benefits due ill health in the last few years and it was upsetting a to be treated like I was.

    I find that the media machine is a finely tuned piece of engineering. In recent years it has turned sections of society against each other in a moral battle fought on the pages & screens of the population. Sometimes you see George Orwell’s name attached to such quotes though I think Dante and the circles of hell is more accurate.

    Actively I change my opinions and behaviour to rebel against deep conditioning that we receive.

    As Ghandhi once said “be the change you want to see in the world”

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