Thursday, December 27, 2007

Enlightened Self-Interest

Today I heard on the radio the term "enlightened self-interest" and I thought it might be interesting to define it.

Generally it means persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. It's a term in ethics/philosophy which is an area of study that has to do with right behavior and good life.

It has often been simply expressed by the belief that an individual, group, or even a commercial entity will "do well by doing good".

Alexis de Tocqueville discussed the concept in his work Democracy in America. This quote from that work comes from
The Americans, on the contrary, are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state.
Here's how the Dalai Lama puts it: If you think in a deeper way that you are going to be selfish, then be wisely selfish, not narrow-mindedly selfish.

The idea is that a "universal sense of responsibility" is "doing the right thing."

So don't you think if we taught our children to be "self-interested" in the way described above rather than teaching "selflessness" or "self-sacrifice" we as a nation would be a lot better off?

Why don't you tell me what you think in the comments...


Sandy Carlson said...

I often encounter cynics who turn this idea on its head to suggest people are kind only because it makes them feel good about themselves. But persons who are enlightened are seeking to end the suffering of others; such actions naturally feel good. I suppose that's the difference. To teach that difference is very important. Otherwise enlightened self-interest is merely public relations.

Roger said...

I like the Dalai Lama saying! I think I might have it tattoo'd to my arm :D

the teach said...

Thanks for your intelligent comments, Sandy and Roger. :)

Travis said...

That's an interesting point. We often make the argument in this country that we shouldn't get involved in anything outside our own borders unless we are protecting our own national interests.

And yet, the men and women who serve in the armed forces are often asked to make the ultimate sacrifice that is most decidedly not in their own self-interest.

I wonder how "enlightened self-interest" would address that dichotomy.

the teach said...

Travis, wouldn't soldiers in war, while making the ultimate sacrifice of their lives, be living by the principle of "enlightened self-interest" because they are living by a "universal sense of responsibility" by serving their country? Of course I don't believe that we should be in Iraq therefore I don't think that argument applies in this case.

Sheila said...

I've always thought that the greater good is served when we help others. I look at life from the viewpoint that we (humankind) are all in it together. I wonder why a lot. Why do I have so much and others so little? Fortuna is indeed fickle.

Thanks for a great discussion.