Dr. Eli Goldratt once asked me what the difference is between the ultimate egoist and the ulimate altruist, such as Mother Teresa. I don't recall which example he used for the ultimate egoist; perhaps, Napoleon or Hitler may be an appropriate choice for our discussion. His answer, after giving me time to think about it, was that there is no difference, since both types of people are focused on meeting their own needs.
The reality is that how they do so is not the same. The ultimate egoist ensures that his/her needs are met before those of others, while the ultimate altruist meets the needs of others before those of oneself. In essence, Eli would have referred to them as 'different identicals,' a term he used to describe two things which are the same, yet different at the same time. He shared that term with me when he referenced the virtues of a human being. The virtues, such as honesty and integrity, are different parts of a human's face, yet each combines to make the whole, integrated face presenting the essence of one's character.
Since we had that discussion over six years ago, I have pondered this topic of discussion and its applications to my life and that of others. I concluded that altruism and egoism are two extremes on a continuum for how to meets one's needs, which are also opposites/polarities.
Which one is a better choice for how to live a more meaningful life?
My answer is neither. When someone is an altruist, they may believe that other people's needs are more important than their own. As a result, they tend to sacrifice their own health, wealth (abundance) and perhaps even happiness to ensure that others are taken care of.
On the other hand with an egoist, they may think that their needs are more important than those of the others or may not even care about the needs of others, even their loved ones. As a result, they may make choices which actually harm the health, wealth and happiness of others. A selfish person often is so focused on themselves that when they are upset that reality is not they want they want it to be, that they may yell, say mean words or even become physically threatening or abusive to get their way. In addition, they may not even truly listen to what you are saying you need even if your communication is clear, peaceful and to the point (concise so as to not waste their valuable time). (Note: I will be writing at least one blog on the subject of mental, emotional and physical abuse in the near future.)
The best solution is for everyone to have their needs met. The only way for this to happen is with win-win for all. In other words, we now realize with the TOC evaporating cloud (conflict resolution) process that there is typically a common objective for both parties (individuals, groups, families, countries, etc.) that unites them, while each side has a need or set of specific needs to be met (which are somewhat generic overall in this world) in order for them to lead a meaningful life or be successful. For each party's need, there is a want or action that they believe is the best or only way in which to get their need(s) met. We realized (as did others outside of the TOC community now and in the past) that the way to ensure the best result for all is to ensure that the common objective and needs are met by challenging the assumptions underlying the choices for actions to meet the needs. We know that win-lose (aka compromise) in time always deteriorates to lose-lose for all.
Therefore, my conclusion was to focus on ensuring that my interactions with loved ones, colleagues and others is always focused on win-win. I make sure to identify what the real needs are for each party and follow a process as best I can to find a way to live and work together collaboratively to make the world (or at least our portion of it with ripple effects) a better place to live in - to light the way to utopia (an ideal society) here on Planet Earth, our Home.