The Selfishness Syndrome and the Demise of the Golden Rule

By Seamus Anthony

By Seamus Anthony

As I type my partner is fuming in the kitchen, banging cups and plates around and lamenting people and their selfishness. She is a particularly selfless individual and this is part of the reason that I love her so much. Of course the downside is that she is constantly disappointed by the self-centredness of those around her, both in the community at large and *ahem* in her immediate circles.

It’s true when she says that I don’t listen very well when she talks about things she is passionate about but which I struggle to be very interested in (although it’s not true when she says I am not really sorry; I am actually).

And it’s true when she says that people are, to use what I presume is an Australian colloquialism, “pikers” (to “pike” means to cancel on a commitment, whether that be volunteering for a charity event or just morning tea). People are Pikers. So am I – although not anywhere as much as others are.

I tell my better half that, although it’s sad, she should stop expecting so much of other people. People are selfish and will, reliably and regularly, disappoint you. The more you expect people to behave in a certain manner, the more let down and hurt you are going to feel when, almost inevitably, they don’t.

So the best course of action is to lower expectations of others and get on with it.

Of course these platitudes just lead to another passionate blitzkrieg of righteous indignation – and she is right – it is a sad state of affairs to have to lower expectations to the level of “what is” as opposed to “what should be” but there it is.

I think the Selfishness Syndrome is an increasingly prevalent malaise. People are rushed, stressed, overwhelmed and, at the end of the day, scared. Scared of what’s to come. Scared of losing. Scared of being trampled on by a dog-eat-dog society. Scared, ultimately, of death.

And this fear leads to defensive behaviour – one of which is selfishness.

Keeping Up Appearances

I read today in a surprisingly sensitive episode of the Lefsetz Letter that “if you even profess doubts, never mind actually lose, you’re kicked to the curb these days.  We’ve only got time for winners” and the quoted struck me as being related to the above issue.

I have experienced this on more than one occasion.

People are very concerned with attaching themselves to what appear to be ascending stars.

I used to be in a band, and in our day, we were the toast of the town. People couldn’t get enough of us: other musicians, girls, the media, venue operators. Our phone bill took a dive almost overnight when suddenly the situation turned from us doggedly calling out, over and over, to everybody calling us, wanting a piece of the action.

But eventually the band, formerly the single most unified group of people I have ever been a part of, began to grow weary of each other and this energy was palpable. Did anybody stand up and say “Hey, you guys have been working very hard and in each other’s pockets for 5 years now; why don’t you take a break and meanwhile me and some other friends will help you to get through this tough time”?


What happened was that the entire city, everybody we knew right down to our parents and partners, smelt the fear and deserted the ship like the proverbial rats.

“It’s over man, move on” was all I heard from anybody. In retrospect, despite my sage advice to my beautiful lady, I feel very disappointed in others about this. We could have used some support, but the same crowd that did not believe we could do what we actually went out and did, were the first people to give up the hope we ended up inspiring in them and scarper at the first sign of trouble.

I am not surprised mind you – it’s just like Lefsetz said – people only have time for winners and at the first whiff of self-doubt, they will drop you like a stone. Unfortunate, but true. On the flipside, I am aware that if you stop putting energy into a project, the buzz is going to fade. So I am not dissing people for not hanging around breathlessly waiting for us (the band) to get off our arses and start kicking goals again. That would be delusional. You get according to what you put in.

The Golden Solution

There is hope though. But before I get to that I need to gripe about one more thing:

Hello? Has anybody out there other than me ever heard of the Golden Rule?

You do know what that is right?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Ok I am exaggerating – plenty of people do practice this … but MORE simply do not.

Let’s take an example that most bloggers and readers will relate to: social media.

The brilliant Gary Vaynerchuk repeatedly drums home that it’s counter-constructive to use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc. as one-way broadcasting channels to try to ram your shit down people’s throats. On a practical level it doesn’t work. In fact Gary quite rightly calls it spamming but this fact seems to be lost on many of my friends and acquaintances that are in bands, or run small businesses or what have you. Many of these people are never seen in my Facebook news feed until they have a new “thing” to promote and suddenly there they are jumping up and down screaming “look at me!” and “buy my shit” and “become my fan”.

I should point out that I have been guilty of this too in the past because it is hard to resist isn’t it? You sit there thinking to yourself “how can I get people to pay attention to my awesomeness” and you know they are all going to see whatever you post and it’s just so easy to bang out a mini-ad about yourself and hit submit.

But bottom line? It doesn’t work.

I have found that when I post something funny, insightful or useful to Facebook, I get responses. But when I post something like “Just recorded a new song, check it out” with a link, the response is usually muted.

Now maybe this is because my music is shit, but I reckon it’s because people hate (and gloss over) blatant self-promotion. I know this because I do it – big time.

I have a Facebook “friend” (who I have not seen since my teenage years) who is a painter and constantly touts her wares on Facebook.

Now – I know she’s a great artist but frankly, I tend to ignore most of her posts. I just don’t have the time or the desire to be marketed at by friends. After all, who likes a friend who wants to convert you to Amway or Born Again Christianity? Fucking nobody, that’s who.

Meanwhile you’re thinking – yeah but wasn’t this about the Golden Rule?

Well, yes it is – I’m getting to it.

So I have been reaching out blogging again and getting right back into social media, but I have come to the conclusion, like my dear charity-barbecue-organising lady, that people are simply too selfish to do much for you unless they see a very compelling “what’s in it for me” reason to do so. It’s the way it is. The Golden Rule is becoming the Forgotten Rule.

Sad but true.


I am trying an experiment.

I have always been pretty quick to help people out, especially online because I can do it from my desk, but what I have started doing over the last few weeks is taking this to a whole new level. I am devoting significant time and to going right out of my way to offer unsought after help to other people.

I am recommending music by other people to my network and to music industry people.

I am spending time in forums to promote another person’s podcast.

I am attending gigs that are an hour’s drive out of my way.

I am looking for more and more ways to help others to get ahead.

And I’m not asking for a thing in return.

I am doing this for two reasons, one altruistic, the other not.

The first reason is because we have to try to make this world a better place right? And, to use a cliché, you are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. In this case the problem is people’s selfish reluctance to help others out. I want to not be like that because being like that sucks to the power of infinity plus four.

The second reason, ironically, perversely even, is that I want to see to what amount this affects people’s willingness to help me out, to promote MY shit, to recommend ME to others, even though I won’t ask them to.

I don’t know what the result of this experiment will be – but I truly hope that the Golden Rule is the Golden Solution to the (greater) problem of the Selfishness Syndrome and the (lesser) problem of how to sell one’s shit.

I will report back on how it goes. Thankfully, I am fairly certain that few people will read this far down so this post is unlikely to scuttle my cunning plan!

Hi, I'm Seamus Anthony. I am an author, artist and musician from Australia. Here at Rebel Zen, I document my journey as an creative artist and human and in doing so, hopefully help you in your own progress through your life of creativity. Go get your free E-book by me: "Taming The Monkey Mind".

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