Why Are We Fundamentally Selfish?

From Krishnamurti’s Book THINK ON THESE THINGS

Question: Why are we fundamentally selfish? We may try our best to be unselfish in our behaviour, but when our own interests are involved we become self-absorbed and indifferent to the interests of others.

Krishnamurti: I think it is very important not to call oneself either selfish or unselfish, because words have an extraordinary influence on the mind. Call a man selfish, and he is doomed; call him a professor, and something happens in your approach to him; call him a Mahatma, and immediately there is a halo around him. Watch your own responses and you will see that words like ‘lawyer’, ‘businessman’, ‘governor’, ‘servant’, ‘love’, ‘God’, have a strange effect on your nerves as well as on your mind. The word which denotes a particular function evokes the feeling of status; so the first thing is to be free of this unconscious habit of associating certain feelings with certain words, is it not? Your mind has been conditioned to think that the term ‘selfish’ represents something very wrong, unspiritual, and the moment you apply that term to anything your mind condemns it. So when you ask this question, ‘Why are we fundamentally selfish?’, it has already a condemnatory significance.

It is very important to be aware that certain words cause in you a nervous, emotional, or intellectual response of approval or condemnation. When you call yourself a jealous person, for example, immediately you have blocked further inquiry, you have stopped penetrating into the whole problem of jealousy. Similarly, there are many people who say they are working for brotherhood, yet everything they do is against brotherhood; but they don’t see this fact because the word ‘brotherhood’ means something to them and they are already persuaded by it; they don’t inquire any further and so they never find out what are the facts irrespective of the neurological or emotional response which that word evokes.

So this is the first thing: to experiment and find out if you can look at facts without the condemnatory or laudatory implications associated with certain words. If you can look at the facts without feelings of condemnation or approval, you will find that in the very process of looking there is a dissolution of all the barriers which the mind has erected between itself and the facts.

Just observe how you approach a person whom people call a great man. The words ‘great man’ have influenced you; the newspapers, the books, the followers all say he is a great man, and your mind has accepted it. Or else you take the opposite view and say, ‘How stupid, he is not a great man’. Whereas, if you can dissociate your mind from all influence and simply look at the facts, then you will find that your approach is entirely different. In the same way, the word ‘villager’, with its associations of poverty, dirt, squalor, or whatever it is, influences your thinking. But when the mind is free of influence, when it neither condemns nor approves but merely looks, observes, then it is not self-absorbed and there is no longer the problem of selfishness trying to be unselfish.