I don’t think that being selfless is our default setting as humans. Oftentimes, we want what is easy, what is most convenient for us. We don’t want to constantly do favors for others. When asked to do something, we may even think, “What can I gain from doing this? How will this affect my own life? How is this beneficial to me?”
I’m not saying we all absolutely detest doing things for other people, as I don’t think selfishness is a black-or-white issue. Even selfishness is too harsh of a word; perhaps a “strong-preference-to-not-be-bothered” is better. I’m not going to lie, this mindset used to be my default setting.
Not that long ago, if I didn’t have to disrupt my own routine or schedule, I wouldn’t. I didn’t feel the need to do more work than the bare minimum. If I wanted to get out of something, I’d make half-hearted excuses. I was so attached to my own convenience, to what would make my life easier, that I completely disregarded the fact that my actions have effects on those around me.
And although my default mindset has definitely shifted, there are small, selfish tendencies I am still working on. After all, I’m getting this article in two days past the deadline, to an amazing team of editors who rely on me to get my work done on time. Because whether or not I wanted to get this assignment done before the weekend doesn’t really matter. The fact is that it isn’t about me; it’s about contributing to something larger than myself.
Before I get into this more, let’s make something clear. There’s the other side of the spectrum where one can be too selfless. This can look like saying “yes” to too many things when you’re already overwhelmed with things to do. This can look like neglecting your own personal needs to constantly be there for others. Being too selfless can be a slippery slope for those who are people-pleasers (If you don’t know what this is, I definitely recommend Googling it!) or who have a hard time drawing boundaries. Like I said, it’s really not so black and white. And it’s really hard to strike the balance between taking care of yourself and making sure you are intentional with the people in your life.
I want you to think about the people you know you can rely on. Whom do you call if your car breaks down? Think of the people who check in on you and ask how you are doing, really? Think about the people who always consider the other person’s perspective in a situation, even if they are the one who is hurt. Now think, have you proven to be the same person that they would call while stranded on the road?
We need to consider the intentions behind our actions. What motivates our good deeds? Are we trying to climb the social or workplace ladder? Do we want to do things for others so that they perceive us as a certain type of person and to control our image? What is it that we are looking to gain?
Some may argue that intentions don’t matter because your actions are what actually define you. But I can’t help but wonder: If you were to take away any sort of material or social benefit from your action, would you still do it? And if you wouldn’t, what does that say about how truly selfless you are?
I have learned that there is nothing more gratifying than going out of my way to show kindness to another person with no expectation of anything in return. I now know that sharing kindness with another person in a pure, unconditional and unexpecting way is far more fulfilling than focusing on my own worldly benefits. Because what you gain from doing your best to reflect the Divine’s unconditional love and kindness is a sense of peace and comfort deeper than any selfish convenience,
It boils down to this: What matters more? A life that is constantly comfortable, convenient to me and as easy as possible, or a life that may be a little less convenient but full of shared and joyful moments of connection with others?