To most Americans, Bernie Madoff is the epitome of selfishness. He wantonly destroyed lives in his pursuit of money. He engaged in a massive fraud in order to indulge his own desires. He had no concern for anyone but himself.
In truth, Madoff was completely selfless. In truth, he showed absolutely no concern for his own well-being.
While Madoff certainly “enjoyed” the material trappings of success, he was a miserable and pathetic creature. As he told one interviewer:
“It was a nightmare for me,” he told investigators, using the word over and over, as if he were the real victim. “I wish they caught me six years ago, eight years ago.”
In the end, Madoff lost everything–his money, his fancy home, his family, and his freedom. And before his scam was exposed, he lived in torment, knowing that he was lying to everyone.
To believe that Madoff was selfish is to claim that living in fear is in one’s self-interest. It is to claim that lying to one’s friends, family, employees, and clients breeds self-esteem and happiness. Such claims are simply false.
To be selfish means to pursue one’s self-interest. This means more than pursuing any momentary urge or desire. It means recognizing what is truly in one’s self-interest. It means recognizing the long-term consequences of one’s actions, and acting accordingly. Madoff did not do this. He ignored the fact that his Ponzi scheme would ultimately collapse and he would wind up in jail. And, as we have seen, that did not serve him well. That wasn’t selfish.