James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

that may or may not exist

36: Selfish

The word “selfish” gets such a bad rap. Being called selfish is usually thrown as an insult, but I’d argue that there’s a benefit to being (just a little bit) selfish. In a moment of “selfishness”, I decided to take a day off from my day job and ride my bike around the city. Pedaling along a quiet street in the Washington Park neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, this thought kept pondering in my head: “why do I never want to admit to being selfish?”

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “selfish” means:

concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself :  seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

I believe that anything in excess leads to a consequence, so how come selfishness doesn’t receive the same credit when used in moderation? I think there are good types of selfishness, such as the following examples:

  1. Saying no to an event on your calendar because you want to have time to yourself.
  2. Choosing not share something you create.
  3. Keeping an idea to yourself.

Are those examples of being selfish?

I’m not exactly sure.

Is there a better word for this type of mindfulness, the kind of “looking out for one’s self rather than others?”

I’m still not sure.

I’ve heard more times than I can count (either from quotes retweeted on Twitter or image shares on Tumblr) that “the ‘no’s’ you say in your life are more important than the ‘yes’s’”. Just like everything in life, a balance seems to be the key to peace–say “no” to everything and no one will ask you for anything, but say “yes” to everything and you don’t have the time to do anything–but there’s a knee jerk reaction (usually negative) to someone saying no, or keeping a secret from others, or even letting an idea simmer before sharing to the world. Hell, even deciding not have a smartphone, saying no to the next social network that pops up, or rejecting a job offer seems taboo to many. Is that being selfish?

I’ve been thinking about this intensely over the last few weeks. With my available time shrinking with my own wedding nearing close and other artistic engagements to tackle before the end of this month, I’ve been having to say no to many things that have been coming towards my way. “No” to new freelance clients, “no” to some social events, “no” to travel plans that are just tempting to take. While I’m happy and privileged enough to have these opportunities arriving, I’ve seen the trouble that comes with wearing myself too thin, but there’s still that nagging voice inside that says “stop being so selfish and say yes.” “Jeez James, what the hell is wrong with you, how dare you say no to someone, don’t be pretentious.” It seems like the ultimate mile-marker of maturity is knowing when to say yes, and when to say no.

Do you remember a time you had to say “no” to something in order to be “selfish” to yourself? How did it turn out? I’d love to hear about it, just hit reply.

Have a great Monday and see you next week,


What did I find interesting this week?

1) How to make a Twitter bot: I found this article to be fun and a great way to get your feet wet with some programming languages. I used this as a resource to learn a little bit of the Python programming language and build this Twitter bot.

2) “Generation Like”: PBS Frontline Documentary: Thanks to C’ne, I’ve become a junkie for PBS’ Frontline documentary series. This one talks about how advertisers use your social media activity to market products and services, including some fascinating interviewers with current Internet celebrities.

3) Monocle’s 2014 Quality of Life Survey: Feeling a bit of wanderlust today? Monocle chose their top cities in the world based on their quality of living.

4) What DJs Really Do: For the longest, I’ve found DJing incredibly fascinating. This DJ took an aerial video of himself during a set and used overlaid text to describe what the variety of knobs and levels actually does to the music.

5) If Your Mind Is Your House (Be Your Own Thermostat)Lena Masek gave some great advice on being aware of the power that you have to become the best person you can be.

James T. Green