|I think that one of the chief obstacles to more people adopting objectivism as a personal philosophy is simply in a misunderstanding of the terminology and of the way in which Rand meant it.|
If, from a personal standpoint, to be "selfish," for example, is simply to pursue what one values, then everyone is selfish all the time - or at least attempts to be. In that sense, selfishness is indistinguishable from motivation.
From the purely personal motivational standpoint, one can tie ones self into all kinds of logical knots attempting to be "unselfish," only to discover that whatever choice one makes to act or not to act, is still a reflection of what one values - and is therefore "selfish" in its essense. "Selflessness" is only possible to the dead.
Rand's challenge to that status quo was to ask, ~"but is your 'value' in fact correct?" The very question carries the implication that one can assess a "value" and a standard of value on some objective basis. This is very puzzling as well to many people, as they surely wonder how it is that one can judge ones own values. After all, wouldn't you be inherently employing your own values in making the judgment? And, of course, the answer is "Yes!"
But we didn't emerge from the womb knowing that we were Republicans, Catholics or Marxists. Values are in fact identified and they are initially perceptually identified on the basis of observation, experimention and consistency. We are born with a bias toward correct values by the nature of our nervous system and our capacity to experience pleasure and pain, reflecting what harms or helps us. However, we have a vast capacity for error, and this results in people adopting all manner of silly "values," many of which can be traced to vicious socially transmitted memes that function as epistemological parasites.
Thus, because values for each individual are chosen on such grounds as consistency with prior choices, it should be possible - and is, in fact - to deconstruct the set of values that an adult possesses, and examine them against that standard of consistency. When one does, it turns out that only values which are consistent with survival and life as a human being can be consistently pursued. And trying to pursue impossible values is only consistent with failure. It does not take stepping outside the self somehow, as religions often demand, to perform this checksum. It merely takes a more fundamental focus on what it is that forms ones core beliefs.