Thursday, December 21, 2006

I propose

I do not claim to coin the term, but I do propose a common useful meaning for "selfen". Selfen should stand in distinction to "selfish". While the latter term has a mostly negative meaning, I think selfen should carry a more ambivalent, if not to say positive, connotation.

A selfish person is driven to think of only himself first. This may not have a conscious origin, but it should manifest itself consciously to count as being selfish. If it were a mere social blind spot, people wouldn't scold us for "being selfish". Selfish people devote the nergies and resources primarily to seeing themselves come out well. A selfish person chooses to be that way, since he knows it will best gratify his self.

A selfen person, by contrast, is one whose position in life lead to unintended "selfish" behavior.
I place myself in this category. I am a bachelor living alone in Taiwan, a foreign country. I am occupied with many things, which do not really count as "selfish" endeavors. Volunteering in a church youth group, leading a free English Bible study before Mass, helping in Mass, leading a book study after Mass, teaching, witnessing in the classroom, writing and designing for a free evanglistic Catholic cultural review, etc. By living apart from my family, by living apart from a community, by living unmarried, etc. -- in all these ways, the conditions of my life convert even my best intenioned efforts to be "selfless" into at times apparently "selfish" behavior.

"Elliot, do you have time to hang out?"

"No, I'm busy."

Multiply this exchange a thousand times over a hundred different situations, and the only central theme that emerges is my "I", my busy self in the pursuit of things that inexorably draw me away from, or cut me off from, being considerate of others -- and for the sake of other others at that!

A selfen person may be told he is "doing a lot for people", but because his lifestyle is almost totally individualized, he ends up looking like a loner. Always buzzing here and there -- by himself, and thus seemingly for himself.

Plainly, I am writing from my own experience. But I think the distinction between selfish and selfen holds.

More later, perhaps...

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