from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

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Selfless Versus Selfish

“Have you ever wondered why we have toenails? I mean, don’t they seem rather useless?”

Given my focus on helping people become more purposeful in their lives, one question that I always ask participants in my seminars is, “What are the qualities and characteristics that you would like to draw upon if you were defining yourself “on purpose” (versus being defined by, or made to feel a certain way, by certain people and/or situations)?”

Every once in a while, someone will say the word “selfless,” and I’m always intrigued by that response. I think what they really mean is that they don’t want to be selfish, and therefore, choose what they believe to be the opposite. I think they mean “doing for” or helping others, and of course, being that helping others is my profession, if not my mission on the planet, I think this is a great idea.

However, I wonder if the term “selfless” is really what we are going for? In fact, I wonder if such a state even exists, and if it does, should it really be something we aspire to? To find out, let’s take these questions one at a time.

First, is it even possible to be “selfless,” meaning is it possible to do for others without receiving some benefit to ourselves? I think not, because the act of doing for others (assuming it is done without obligation and resentment) is inherently rewarding. It feels good!

When we give to a cause that is meaningful to us, it feels good. When we do something for someone in a way that is meaningful, it feels good. And, isn’t that as it should be? Why do we think that if we get something out of helping others, that somehow our contribution has been diminished? Again, I think it is due to our fear of being selfish. However, I am not someone who believes that our love of helping should be driven by our fears.
Therefore, I suggest that we reject the belief that we should be “selfless” in our giving to others, and celebrate how our willingness to help is both good for others and good for us.

The good news is that opportunities to do for others are all around us. Certainly, looking for ways to help those we care for will be rewarding in so many ways. They will feel good, we will feel good, and it will color the quality of this connection in the future. However, even simply giving to an individual and/or an organization that you admire can also be rewarding.

I experienced this the other day while watching 60 Minutes. They did a great piece on an operation in Tanzania called the Tanzanian Children’s Fund. This is a village that houses 90 + children who would have been orphans, and gives them a place to live, learn, love, and be loved. It also provides a school for the surrounding villages and healthcare in a part of the world that desperately needs it. It was a wonderful piece, and when I went to their site to help, I felt like I was part of their project. A great example of how the kids were helped, the founders of the project were rewarded with the love and appreciation from the kids, and I felt great in supporting such a cause. (Feel free to view the 60 Minutes segment on this project, or go for an immediate “feel good moment” by supporting their cause at www.tanzanianchildrensfund.org)

The bottom line is that we don’t have to be selfless to avoid being selfish. Not only is it not possible, it’s not even a good idea, because when doing good feels good, the potential for doing more good in the future is enhanced… everybody wins! The most succinct way to say this is embodied in the timeless phrase, “Giving is receiving.” Therefore, I suggest that we look for opportunities to do for, and/or give to others, and in doing so, be open to receiving the good feelings that come with these altruistic acts. Whether these good feelings come from the appreciation of others, or are generated internally, this experience of “giving is receiving” can be a gift to all concerned.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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