Truly selfless acts provide their own rewards
July 16, 2008
In the movie “As Good As It Gets,” actor Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt that “she makes him want to be a better man.” The movie can be somewhat tortuous to watch and getting Nicholson to say that line causes Hunt a good bit of torture. In keeping with the general theme of the evening, Nicholson soon says something cruel and the good will he had created with Hunt quickly fades.
That line rattles around in the vast expanse of my head and periodically makes an appearance in my thought pattern. This past Sunday, I was inspired by something I heard on radio and I found myself, “wanting to be a better man.” It was in the sense of doing more for people in a more conscientious manner. It is relatively easy to be busy doing things for other people, but quite another to do so in a dedicated and selfless manner. To do so with the receiving party’s best interest in mind, not my own.
Basically, it goes against the selfish nature we are born with.
The point isn’t what I did, but why. What is it about things we see or hear that compels us to want to be a better person. Coaches seek to find out what motivates their players to put forth a supreme effort. Leaders seek to find the words that inspire their charges to put aside personal goals that stand in the way of achieving success for the group as a whole. And, sometimes, the motivation to be a better person is personal and comes from simply a desire to be a better person. The improvement sought may be mental, emotional, spiritual or physical. I doesn’t really matter.
Rarely, for me, is a motivational speech the sparkplug for change. It is well documented that I have become very cynical. A political speech, in particular, has me wondering what angle the political is working. And, to be honest, when I found out that most speeches are written by a team of speechwriters I became suspicious that any speech actually reflects anything genuine about the speaker. Prior to my outbreak of cynicism, I would pay attention when former President Lyndon Johnson said, “My fellow Americans.” When news anchorman Walter Cronkite said, “And, that’s the way it is,” I believed that’s exactly the way it was. No more, and that’s a sad commentary.
Motivation to be a better person, for me, comes most often from observing a genuine act of concern or compassion. I am a sucker for those stories about those who sacrifice their own time and effort to help make somebody else’s life better. Particular admiration is held for those who make those sacrifices for causes or people who have been bypassed or labeled as “lost.” Those sacrifices, to me, reach to the very essence of a person. That reveals their true makeup, their true DNA.
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It is easy to sacrifice, if there is a reasonable expectation of a reward, financial or otherwise. Some might even say that taking the first step in those situations is reason enough to celebrate a sacrifice. Really, that is no more than a calculated investment or speculation in hope of a future raise in pay, pat on the back or honorarium.
Examples of selflessness abound. All of us can observe them on a regular basis.
There will always be good people among us. The next step is the most crucial. I believe for a family, community or society to advance and mature, the participants must be inspired by those selfless acts to take their own selfless steps. When that bridge is crossed, and the selflessness reproduces itself, there is no end to what that family, that community, that society or even that group of employees can achieve.
Perhaps your situation doesn’t appear to lend itself to being a nirvana of symbiotic behavior. Perhaps when the people you work with leave home in the morning, they roll the stone back over the entrance to their cave. Perhaps your situation calls for you to be the one to be selfless, to rise above the situation and take your fellow employees on the ride of their lives.
It will be nice, of course, if selflessness acts come back your way. However, the true essence of selflessness means that a return or reward is not to be expected, needed or even wanted. What you learn about yourself in those situations is reward enough.
And that lesson is something nobody can take away.
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