Some people think it is wrong to be selfish because if everyone was only out for himself without regard for others, there would be anarchy. Religion and communism both preach that "selfish" is a dirty word. I've heard George "Wrong" Bush refer to the 9/11 firefighters as "selfless
heros". I hear that word, selfless, all the time on the news referring to some kind of hero. But what does "selfless" mean? It means the opposite of selfish - it means unselfish.
Here's one official definition of selfless:
Having, exhibiting, or motivated by no concern for oneself.
Is it a good thing to have absolutely no self interest? If a woman had no self interest, she would give herself to any man that wanted her at any time because she would consider her own interests unimportant; only the interests of others counts. If a christian had no self interest, he would not be a christian because he would not care about his own salvation.
Clearly, being completely selfless or unselfish is not good.
Selfish means achieving one's own values. I value human life so I would take some degree of risk to my own life in order to save another's life but the amount of risk would depend on who's life was at stake and how valuable they were to me. I would risk certain death to save my wife because she is very valuable to me. I would take a smaller amount of risk to save a stranger. I would NOT risk even a broken fingernail or a minute of my time to save Osama Bin Laden or George W. Bush because their lives have absolutely no value to me.
Any man who would risk certain death to save a stranger is truly unselfish/selfless and is also truly stupid with messed up values. What about his wife and kids? Is saving a stranger worth depriving his wife and kids of their husband/father? Where are his values placed? Is a stranger more important to him than his own wife and kids? Of course, taking a risk involves probability. The firefighters of 9/11 were heros because they took a risk to save human life. The fact the towers collapsed and killed them is an unfortunate result of rolling the dice. Would they have gone into the twin towers if they knew the buildings were going to fall down and kill them? Obviously not. Anybody who knowingly allows himself to die for a stranger is inhuman and deserves no accolades (unless they've got a terminal disease and don't have much time left in which case they clearly place a high value on human life and that would be selfish, not unselfish).
A man who values human life enough to take a limited risk to save another is a hero. A man who would jump into alligator infested waters to save his wife is an even bigger hero because his sincere love for his wife is noble.
We should be considerate and compassionate of other people but only because we selfishly value human life. That is achieving our values and is therefore selfish rather than unselfish.
Ayn Rand calls this "rational selfishness". She wrote a book on this topic called, "The Virtue of Selfishness"