Positive spin on Self-Interest

Many of the definitions of self-interest seem to have a negative spin (greed, conceited, meanness, mercenary, etc.).

But what is the positive spin of self-interest?

Any ideas?

For more positive Self-Interesr, maybe try something like… greed, conceited, meanness, mercenary, etc.

This is the key phrase here. If I don’t feel like I’m getting paid enough of a commission and I want more (greed) and I start my own business, that creates competition with my previous employer which drives innovation, lowers prices for consumers, and lowers unemployment. What’s negative about that?

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I agree! Nothing wrong with being self-interested :wink:

Saving your own life is also an action of self-interest - nothing wrong with that!

However, lots of the definitions I’ve come across define self-interest in relation to others (as in Morality) hence the, “if I’m looking after myself so I can’t look after you”.

self-interest is generally defined in relation to another, which is what gives it a bad rep.

Isn’t positive self-interest taking care of oneself first so one can care for another (in better ways, for a longer time)?

It’s the old “put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then put it on the child.”

It also doesn’t have to involve another person. For example, I choose to get more sleep so I can allow my body to recover from the previous day, reduce my stress, and be more alert the next day.


Positive spin of Self-Interest…

  • a hostile environment (war, bad neighbourhood) where you need to think first for yourself
  • a hostile or abusive relationship where you need to free yourself from being doing what is best for others
  • a single mother who needs to stay healthy in order to take care for her twins
  • if you are working in a low wage job, being tired of struggling, and coming to the conclusion to do better by yourself
  • to express your self artists need to be self-interested
  • If you have been forgotten by someone (partner, family, friend), you should have to think of yourself

Depends on the context, some of the example might be a good fit as well in »Protection«.


I’m going to assume what you’re hoping for is some positive gists that could fall under self-interest

Advocate for oneself
Encourage oneself
Honor oneself
Beautify oneself
Awaken oneself
Charm others
Consider oneself
Nominate oneself
Accept oneself
Defend oneself
Calm oneself
Console oneself
Secure oneself
Entreat for oneself
Free oneself
Express oneself
Discipline oneself (the good kind)
Exonerate oneself

If you need more let me know


Thank you, Diane!


Thank you, @Gernot!!


I’m reminded of Ayn Rand saying, “Selfishness is a virtue.”

“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

She’d say a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life would require self-interest; a selfish person is a self-respecting, self-supporting human being who neither sacrifices others to themselves nor sacrifices themselves for others.

Sounds positive to me.

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Maybe @jhull can add all these positive self-interest gists to Subtext :wink:

Or, you can do it yourself :slight_smile:

At the bottom of every Element is a form where you can submit suggestions. If they fit, I approve and add them to the general collection. If not, I send you an email explaining why.

The last thousand or so are all user-submitted.

Here’s the page for Self-interest: https://app.narrativefirst.com/elements/illustrations/self-interest

Just please please please submit them in the typical Illustration form. For example:

  • advocating for oneself
  • being an advocate for one’s interests firsts
  • exonerating oneself from repercussions

Are all great.

  • relax
  • charm others

Not so much. They’re too general. And while I can see how relaxing and charming others could be self-interested behavior, they veer too far away from definitively illustrating a process of Self-interest—they could be interpreted as almost anything. Attitude and Approach might actually be better issues for these last two.

You just have to be careful because every Element in a quad is measured by the Co-Dynamic Pair. Self-interest, while problematic as an Issue in a potential story, is only appreciated through Approaches and Attitudes—which is what is happening with some of these examples.

Instinctively, everyone will gravitate towards these two to describe Self-interest. That’s great when writing a story (and much preferable then hitting everyone over the head with Self-interest directly), but less so when developing a comprehensive list of illustrations for writers to call upon.


I submitted a couple so far but the list is long and I assumed I could only submit one at a time.

But, if I can submit them all in one go, that would be so much more effiecient. I didn’t think that was possible…but you learn something new every day :slight_smile:

You can submit as many as you want. Forcing you to enter one at a time encourages more deliberation…:slight_smile:

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One of the most famous lines in movie history puts it simply: Greed…is good.

“I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.”
Gordon Gecko
Wall Street

It’s a real moral argument. Gecko believes it’s true. And the argument works because…well, it is true. Sort of. And not true, sort of. Both at the same time. It’s what gives the protagonist and the antagonist moral space to maneuver. It’s an issue worth arguing about. Soviet Communism arose in part because of a hatred of greed, and of course that worked out really well for the Russian peasants and the world. On the other hand, vast inequity in the world now, and the rise of authoritarian rule, and hatred of democracy by the global elite, also because of greed.



I was attracted to this discussion because that’s an argument I’m trying to make in a short story I’m currently fixing.

I think it’s pretty easy to come up with contexts in which self-interest is good, because it aligns with morality (ie doing something that is both beneficial to you, to those around you, and perhaps to humanity as a whole). But as long as self-interest and morality coincide, there is no conflict, and therefore no story.

What’s harder is imagining a context in which self-interest battles it out with morality (which is what the dynamic pair in the Dramatica pattern dictates), and self-interest still comes out on top.

My take is that you can play with the different levels of “others”. Sometimes pursuing your self-interest is beneficial to both you and your inner circle, but not to humanity or the world at large, or vice versa. I don’t think anyone can make an argument in favor of self-interest without taking into account the benefits for some others. The whole question (and where disagreements arise) is which others. I once read an interesting article about a conservative thinker, which summed up the difference between conservative and progressive thinking patterns pretty much in this way (conservatives favor close others, be they family, locals, or their country; whereas progressives usually think in more global, quantitative terms: what benefits the most people?).

You can also articulate self-interest vs morality in terms of means vs end. In my story, the MC is determined to kill the big bad tyrant to take his place. His argument is that a person more concerned with morality, and with less personal ambition (ie self-interest), wouldn’t have what it takes to seize power in such a context. Either they would balk at the idea of killing their opponents, or they wouldn’t make the necessary compromises to garner sufficient support.

Now I’m not trying to paint this in a super positive light either, but simply as a (possibly) more realistic step towards something good than, say, an overnight revolution of everything. Kind of like “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

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[quote=“Jeanne1, post:15, topic:2872”]
I think it’s pretty easy to come up with contexts in which self-interest is good, because it aligns with morality… [/quote]

It seems to me that’s like saying, “I think it is pretty easy to come up with contexts in which black is good, because it aligns with white.”

If you go to the Dramatica dictionary and read the definitions of Morality and Self-interest, you’ll find it is impossible for them to align in Dramatica terms.

It’s really easy for me to let standard definitions seep into the argument. I have to look at the Dramatica dictionary to make sure I understand the denotation as Dramatica has decided it.

Self-interest comes out on top because it leads to success in regard the OS Concern. Morality would have led to failure. Good or bad is about the Judgement, right?

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Agree with everything else but I’m not sure this is right. Self-interest is at the Issue level, so I don’t think it’s tied definitively to the OS Solution in that way. For example, Black Panther is Success-Good, Issue of Self-Interest – but at the end of the film T’challa chooses to reveal Wakanda “for the good of the world”.

Issue is typically thought of as the theme level: so in story with an OS Issue of Self-Interest, there would be all kinds of questions raised about the proper role of Self-Interest. There might be problems around too much Self-Interest or too little. This might be contrasted with Morality (as the Counterpoint) but the thematic focus would be on Self-Interest.


“Aligns” fits. I meant that choosing either process would lead to the same result (at any rate, it’s clearly with this expectation/hope that such instances of self-interest are deemed “good”). In these contexts, both values “agree” with each other, even though they describe reverse processes.

Indeed, if you look at all these actions from the outside, it’s impossible to tell whether they’re motivated by self-interest or morality. There’s nothing inherently self-interested about them. They would only prove to be self-interested if, confronted with a moral alternative in a very specific context, one would still not change course.

Except I doubt that anybody here would argue that these examples of self-interest remain “good” if you have to knowingly sacrifice morality to achieve them. Now, of course it depends how big the sacrifice is (telling a white lie once vs. killing a lot of people, to pick two extremes). But then we’re back to comparing moral benefits, or means vs. ends, which is what I did.

For me one the clearest examples of Self Interest being “positive” is an overworked, overtaxed mother who’s always doing everything for her kids and extended family, ageing parents etc. and never taking any time for herself. Yes, when she finally decides to take care of herself and take a spa day, it might mean the laundry doesn’t get done and the boys have to fend for themselves at dinner. But so what? She has been putting others first for so long, it’s time she did something for herself for once.

That example sacrifices Morality for Self Interest (the mother stops taking care of everyone else in order to focus on herself), but I would argue that it’s still “good”.

Remember, Morality is just “doing or being based on what is best for others” – it doesn’t have in a good way tacked on to that. It could be doing what is best for others when they don’t want you to. Or when they don’t agree about what you think is best.

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Yes – this is a good example of how any term you use can be loaded with certain connotations. Another is Jim’s favorite example of Uncontrolled. He sometimes likes “Free” better – but again it’s context dependent. Free is great for someone who’s a free spirit, or who is driven to escape from the overbearing hands of others. But “Uncontrolled” might be better for someone who is really causing problems because they’re out of control (especially when paired with Feeling which give us the Emotion archetype).

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