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Enlightening Self-Interest

September 17, 2010

Enlightening Self-Interest:

The “Me Generation” moniker has been used to label people born between 1970 and 2000. I even remember it being used at times to describe the “Baby Boom” generation. Although it’s intended as a disparaging designation, pursuing self-interest is an inherent part of being human. Some writers like Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, author of The Predictioneer’s Game, argue that is it the most powerful and ubiquitous driver of human behavior, and not all forms of self-interest are inherently selfish.

Self-interest can also be a force good. One type of enlightened self-interest involves putting the interests of others ahead of your own, with the belief that ultimately your personal interests and needs will be fulfilled, as well. The return on enlightened self-interest may take many forms, including robust and stimulating relationships, a deep sense of accomplishment, respect and admiration, being a role model for others, and personal fulfillment. These intangibles may take time to realize; they are also a key part of our sense of self and are, perhaps, the most rewarding of returns.

Enlightened self-interest can produce a greater good, in that it can be applied in service of a meaningful purpose. Self-interest and purpose often are intertwined, and we frequently find that the benefits to the giver exceed that of the recipients.

Self-interest also drives innovation. Ingenuity and the desire to reap the rewards of creating something new and marketable have led to innumerable inventions and advances in technology that have become woven into the fabric of modern life, and which ultimately have benefited millions. In these instances, the investment of time, energy, and money must be made upfront, before any of the rewards are earned. This is another way that self-interest can drive a greater good.

Pursuit of the selfish form of self-interest may even work for a while. However, in most cases, it eventually catches up with people and may backfire in a painful way. Individuals who put their self-interest first and only superficially combine it with an intention to produce a greater good are often described as greedy, selfish, uncaring, corrupt, duplicitous, intolerant, and untrustworthy. An approach based on self-interest alone can lead to huge ethical lapses and significant breaches of trust. We need look no further than fallen leaders in business, labor unions, politics, government, and even the nonprofit sector to see the truth of this.

For the “Me Generation,” as well as the rest of us, it shouldn’t be all about “me” – but “me” is surely a part of much of what we do. The key is balance. Enlightened self-interest is about flourishing while contributing to the achievement of worthy goals and positively impacting the lives of others.

How do you demonstrate your self-interest? How much of it is enlightened? How can you strike a better balance?

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2010 9:20 am

    Good luck with your new book, Steve! And shana tovah.

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  1. “The Fighter” Fights for Personal Redemption « Find – Fulfill – Flourish

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