One of my most fundamental beliefs is in "Existentialism".
"Søren Kierkegaard is generally considered to have been the first existentialist philosopher, though he did not use the term existentialism. He proposed that each individual—not society or religion—is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely ("authentically")."While I was first drawn to this philosophy while studying it during my college Philosophy course, it later became more vivid to me as the rational way to live upon reading the works of Ayn Rand ("Atlas Shrugged" and "Fountainhead" being her most well known works). Rand terms her philosophy as "objectivism" which she based on "existentialism", with her own extreme left turn on the "virtues of selfishness" thrown in. As I have reflected on this over the past couple decades, I have come to think that hers was a much more "reactionary" philosophy to the Russian background she came from versus a pure objective philosophical approach represented by Kierkegaard. I have come to think that living passionately, sincerely and authentically does not demand pure selfishness, nor does it oppose rational altruism. At our core, I believe the human spirit is born with a sense of belonging and care for its own species. We are born with a balance between intrinsic, "healthy" selfishness which helps sustain and value our lives...and a healthy curiosity and concern for others around us. If we are allowed to grow in a healthy family and society, I think we can excel as individuals while yet finding value and meaning in relationship to others. Unfortunately this tends to be the exception more than the rule...and most people develop into irrational models of thinking where humanity is somehow "depraved", evil, and fundamentally flawed in the view of most fundamental religions.
The longer we live and observe objectively, the more we can realize the motivation of such teachings and "programming". It is much easier to control the otherwise strong and independent character in humans if we can shame them into compliance to a social order. So, from a very young age, most of us experience extreme training to "behave and conform" to behaviors acceptable to the "majority". Peer and social pressure ultimately determines who and what we become in our lives more than real education, experiment or pure "living" on our parts. In my personal experience it took almost 30 years to deprogram the first 12 years of my existence. This is not to "blame" or criticize my parents or upbringing, because all of us are "victims" of the times and pressures we grew up in, but somehow I found myself always trying to break out of this "box" of conformity. While it was an adventurous journey of the mind and personal experience, it was often painful and isolating to go through. Many people who have known me the longest have the least knowledge about what I have been through and who I have become. Not to pat myself on the back...but very few people take that "road less traveled". It is much easier to conform and comply...I KNOW!
It is more important to take this beyond myself and analyze this basis of living objectively. Many of the most successful people I have known have in one way or another lived existentially...that meaning they live or lived passionately and authentically based on their own chosen path of existence. They don't allow others to quash their dreams or ambitions. They take obstacles in their lives as a challenge, not defeat. They live based on their own reason and self approval versus the approval or acceptance of others. They don't escape into "self medicating" or self pity when things go wrong. They find a way to overcome the obstacles in their way...even if that obstacle is something within themselves. Most of these people are LEADERS. They are not leaders living for power or accolades of others...but they provide direction and opportunity for many people beyond themselves. To do this they are not necessarily altruistic OR selfish. It is simply a part of their being to first take responsibility for themselves and THEN to share what they have learned to help others.
Perhaps there is positive selfishness at play in helping others. It makes much more sense to teach someone to fish versus always supplying them with fish YOU have produced. By helping others, we help protect ourselves also. To some extent, the "golden rule" as proposed by many religions still applies here. "Treat others as you would be treated". For me this is a form of my bottom line belief in "cause and effect". If you want to be treated kindly, be kind to others. So, you could say that being kind is "selfish"...because you want to be treated kindly. If you want to be loved, you need to love. Again, cause and effect. You reap what you sow. What goes around comes around. These things should be "self evident", but from watching most of our behaviors...I don't think most of us "get this" yet. Build weapons...you will use them. Build plowshares...you will use them.
The most positive aspect of this belief system is that we can achieve ANY rational goal or objective if we believe in "cause and effect". It is very difficult to control others...no matter how close to us they are. Yet, we all have the capacity to control ourselves...what/how we think, what we do, who we spend our time with.Who we become over time is directly affected by these three things...how we think, do and who we spend our time with. The older I get, the more picky I become on all these fronts. If someone or circumstance is getting in the way of my objective(s), I need to quickly eliminate that person or barrier by action. Just wishing or hoping does no good. And it can be painful and disappointing when people or circumstances don't work out...yet I have normally found that pain and disappointment usually leads to another, even better, situation or opportunity. If we hold on to things or disappointments of the past, we can never move on to the possibilities and opportunities ahead of us. If our heads are stuck in the sands of our emotional reactions to our past disappointments, we will never see nor be able to grasp the opportunities ahead of us.
For me, existentialism is about living in the present and future...while taking positive notes about the past and cataloging them away from affecting our current emotional state of being. It is a difficult task because we humans are very emotional, feeling creatures. Feeling pain is a good thing. Nature has given us these mechanisms for our own good...to teach us to keep our hands out of the fire...or keep certain types of people out of our lives. Insanity is repeating the same actions over and over while expecting different results. The choices we make based on what we existentially know and experience makes all the difference on whether we succeed or fail in our short lives. There are many paths in this life to choose from. Some will be better than others. It is for each of us to make the best choices and live each day with passion and authenticity. If you are not doing so, it usually means you have let others or circumstances quash your vision or capacity of self. Only YOU can correct that.