I grew up learning that the world was divided into two kinds of people: the selfish and the selfless.

The selfish ones were the bad guys who thought about their own gains over and above the benefit of the rest. They were manipulative and greedy people who were scheming and plotting the downfall of others.

The selfless ones on the other hand were noble generous people who cared for the good of all. They put the needs of others, even those of strangers, above their own. They sacrificed for the sake of the less fortunate.

It didn’t help that I was reading the kind of fables that were reaffirming these beliefs.

But then, a few years ago I first came upon the phrase, ‘selfish altruist’.
Whoah! Was this a union of the selfish with the selfless? These were until then seemingly very exclusive words (and worlds)? How was this even possible? 

I found my evidence – in text and in the live examples around me. So I made my peace. That was the beginning of my understanding that the world was never just black or white to begin with.

Damn you Panchatantra!

You cannot however read, observe, make your peace with life and discount your own experiences by not framing an ideology of your own!

The voice in my head once asked me, ‘What of self-respect? Where’d that lie in this gamut of grey?’

On second thoughts, it seems like a legit question. 

If one truly respects themselves, they’d stand up for their own sake. Would that make them selfish? 
If one respects oneself, s/he is capable of respecting another, right? Wouldn’t that make them a better being?

Add another layer of complexity – can a self-respecting individual choose to prioritize oneself over others? In other words, can an individual choose to ignore the rest of the world to tend to their individual needs? 
Or should the individual choose to deprive themselves of something over an equal if not more important need of another – be it family or friend?

Notice I imply the exercise of choice – which may not always be of one’s own free will.

In this gamut of greys where do the lines get drawn? More importantly, who draws these lines?