Glorified selfishness

   Today I saw an entertaining piece of news describing a man helping another commit suicide in Southern China. He shook the suicider’s hand before pushing him off a bridge. For justification of his action, he called the suicider a selfish man who only adds to the peril of society. The suicider is broke by the way, and survived the jump with some spinal injury.
   While I am by no means a spendthrift, I have my own share of the selfishness, in a manner that I’d like to call selfishness through inaction. I have always been passive in dealing with the society. I don’t own a car, not because I can’t afford one, but because I don’t have the mental toughness to deal with the hassle it entails. Thus I free-ride whenever I can, and never offer rides. But even when I had a car, back during undergraduate years, I still managed to be quite self-centered, and living in a sphere of isolation.
   Somehow the apprehension of making a fool of myself in public inhibits a lot of heroic actions enticed through archetypal circumstances in my life. For instance, when I was in high school, a girl in the gifted chemistry class was shouted at by the teacher, who apparently disliked her inquisitiveness, which is purely out of curiosity. While she was sobbing and sniffing in the back of the classroom, trying to absorb the reality of exceptions to freedom of speech, I had the fantasy of going back and offering a piece of napkin. Of course such thought never materialized.
   Sometimes inhibition and inactions could serve me well. To take as a non-example, back in elementary school, I once declared out loud that I wanted to kill the head teacher because she really treated me unjustly. Had I withheld such utterance, she would not have slighted me in the end when it comes to choosing a good middle school, as opposed to nearest neighbor random walk.
   Finally I must confess here that the origin of all such selfishness usually comes down to being highly goal oriented, and having a clearly defined single objective function in life. This could be the desire to make lots of money, or to get into a dream school, etc. As in mathematical research, a heightened signal for acquisition results in compromise of all other peripheral activities, some of which form an integral part of why we are called human beings. If one could take one step back and realize that following routine actions and fit into some old pattern of behavior is not a sign of creativity lacking, but on the contrary could corroborate the eventual circumvention of the obstacles in view, then perhaps life can be much more relaxing and enjoyable.

About aquazorcarson

math PhD at Stanford, studying probability
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