Often selfishness is considered a character flaw. Since childhood, you’re taught to be unselfish, to be less self-centered and to play well with others. It’s the belief that for a community to get along we must forgo certain aspects of ourselves, certain likes or desires in order to create unity.
By this standard, it is easy to see why selfishness is considered a bad flaw to posses. However, Friedrich Nietzsche put forth an argument that selfishness is not an evil but rather a great good. It’s something that we must take care of and use rather than suppress and disregard.
And at that time it also happened – and verily, it happened for the first time – that his word pronounced selfishness blessed, the wholesome, healthy selfishness that wells from a powerful soul – from a powerful soul to which belongs the high body, beautiful, triumphant, refreshing, around which everything becomes a mirror – the supple, persuasive body, the dancer whose parable and epitome is the self-enjoying soul. The self-enjoyment of such bodies and souls calls itself “virtue”.
It may seem odd to have words like healthy, wholesome, virtue and powerful associated with selfishness, however, it makes sense when you understand the meaning behind Nietzsche’s use of selfishness.
For Nietzsche, there is nothing better than to live a life that is one’s own. A life in which you are the leader and you don’t merely accept what has come before you as fact or what others say as virtues or moral’s but rather you create your own life through the use of your will.
It is in this creation that one must be selfish. You use your selfishness as a filter or a screen to allow only those things that bring self-enjoyment or meaning into your life while casting away whatever is considered contemptible. This is your own happiness. The things that you consider to be good for you or evil for you. Not what has been considered good or evil. It is a personal creation of life that you must seek and in order for this to take place, you have to be selfish.
And what was considered virtue and called virtue was playing wicked tricks on selfishness! And “selfless” – that is how all these world-weary cowards and cross-marked spiders wanted themselves, for good reason.
“Selfless” people were associated with the word “sham” for Nietzsche. The reason being is that all their “wisdom” and talk did not come from their own experience. It was upon the experiences of people in the past who had used the creative will to create their own meanings. It is almost a false virtue where one is acting virtuously by being “selfless” but in reality, it is cowardice and the lack of will that makes the individual conform.
It is a type of self-love that Nietzsche is trying to teach. You look out for yourself and you create your own life which includes principles or actions that you agree with and you protect this in a selfish manner from outside influence. In this manner, you set yourself apart from the herd and get on your own path in life.
One must learn to love oneself – thus I teach – with a wholesome and healthy love so that one can bear to be with oneself and need not roam.
Otherwise, you may live a burdensome life and find that these burdens are not even your own but rather adopted from others.
“Yes, life is a grave burden.” But only man is a grave burden for himself! That is because he carries on his shoulders too much that is alien to him. Like a camel, he kneels down and lets himself be well loaded. Especially the strong, reverent spirit that would bear much: he loads too many alien grave words and values on himself, and then life seems a desert to him.
What Nietzsche calls for is uncomfortable because you have to examine your life. Many of us, myself included, follow what our loved ones tell us. This comes from a good place because they want us to be happy or stable. And in order to meet these expectations, we begin to take on a burden that’s not our own. We get trapped in the rat race which we have no desire to participate in but because we don’t want to seem selfish we continue down the path that others have set for us.
To disturb this way of living is difficult but so is being an individual. The safe path is following other people. The unknown is following your own will. The goal is to experience life fully and that requires selfishness on your behalf.