Practice Unselfish Thinking
“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” —BEN SWEETLAND
So far in this book, we’ve discussed many kinds of thinking that can help you to achieve more. Each of them has the potential to make you more successful. Now I want to acquaint you with a kind of thinking with the potential to change your life in another way. It might even redefine how you view success. Unselfish thinking can often deliver a return greater than any other kind of thinking. Take a look at some of its benefits:
1. Unselfish Thinking Brings Personal Fulfillment
Few things in life bring greater personal rewards than helping others. Charles H. Burr believed, “Getters generally don’t get happiness; givers get it.” Helping people brings great satisfaction. When you spend your day unselfishly serving others, at night you can lay down your head with no regrets and sleep soundly. In Bringing Out the Best in People, Alan Loy McGinnis remarked,
“There is no more noble occupation in the world than to assist another human being—to help someone succeed.” Even if you have spent much of your life pursuing selfish gain, it’s never too late to have a change of heart. Even the most miserable person, like Charles Dickens’s Scrooge, can turn his life around and make a difference for others. That’s what Alfred Nobel did. When he saw his own obituary in the newspaper (his brother had died and the editor had written about the wrong Nobel, saying that the explosives his company produced had killed many people), Nobel vowed to promote peace and acknowledge contributions to humanity. That is how the Nobel Prizes came into being.
2. Unselfish Thinking Adds Value to Others
In 1904, Bessie Anderson Stanley wrote the following definition of success in Brown Book magazine: He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children, who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it, who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had, whose life was an inspiration, whose memory a benediction. When you get outside of yourself and make a contribution to others, you really begin to live.
3. Unselfish Thinking Encourages Other Virtues
When you see a four-year-old, you expect to observe selfishness. But when you see it in a forty-year-old, it’s not very attractive, is it? Of all the qualities a person can pursue, unselfish thinking seems to make the biggest difference toward cultivating other virtues. I think that’s because the ability to give unselfishly is so difficult. It goes against the grain of human nature. But if you can learn to think unselfishly and become a giver, then it becomes easier to develop many other virtues: gratitude, love, respect, patience, discipline, etc.
4. Unselfish Thinking Increases Quality of Life
The spirit of generosity created by unselfish thinking gives people an appreciation for life and an understanding of its higher values. Seeing those in need and giving to meet that need puts a lot of things into perspective. It increases the quality of life of the giver and the receiver. That’s why I believe that
There is no life as empty as the self-centered life.
There is no life as centered as the self-empty life.
If you want to improve your world, then focus your attention on helping others.
5.Yourself Merck and Company
the global pharmaceutical corporation, has always seen itself as doing more than just producing products and making a profit. It desires to serve humanity. In the mid-1980s, the company developed a drug to cure river blindness, a disease that infects and causes blindness in millions of people, particularly in developing countries. While it was a good product, potential customers couldn’t afford to buy it. So what did Merck do? It developed the drug anyway, and in 1987 announced that it would give the medicine free to anyone who needed it. As of 1998, the company had given more than 250 million tablets away. 19 George W. Merck says, “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear.” The lesson to be learned? Simple. Instead of trying to be great, be part of something greater than yourself.
6. Unselfish Thinking Creates a Legacy
Jack Balousek, president and chief operating officer of True North Communications, says, “Learn, earn, return—these are the three phases of life. The first third should be devoted to education, the second third to building a career and making a living, and the last third to giving back to others—returning something in gratitude. Each state seems to be a preparation for the next one.” If you are successful, it becomes possible for you to leave an inheritance for others. But if you desire to do more, to create a legacy, then you need to leave that in others. When you think unselfishly and invest in others, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you.
HOW TO EXPERIENCE THE SATISFACTION OF UNSELFISH THINKING
I think most people recognize the value of unselfish thinking, and most would even agree that it’s an ability they would like to develop. Many people, however, are at a loss concerning how to change their thinking. To begin cultivating the ability to think unselfishly, I recommend that you do the following:
1. Put Others First
The process begins with realizing that everything is not about you! That requires humility and a shift in focus. In The Power of Ethical Management , Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “People with humility don’t think less of themselves; they just think of themselves less.” If you want to become less selfish in your thinking, then you need to stop thinking about your wants and begin focusing on others’ needs. Paul the Apostle exhorted, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Make a mental and emotional commitment to look out for the interests of others.
2. Expose Yourself to Situations Where People Have Needs
It’s one thing to believe you are willing to give unselfishly. It’s another to actually do it. To make the transition, you need to put yourself in a position where you can see people’s needs and do something about it. The kind of giving you do isn’t important at first. You can serve at your church, make donations to a food bank, volunteer professional services, or give to a charitable organization. The point is to learn how to give and to cultivate the habit of thinking like a giver.
3. Give Quietly or Anonymously
Once you have learned to give of yourself, then the next step is to learn to give when you cannot receive anything in return. It’s almost always easier to give when you receive recognition for it than it is when no one is likely to know about it. The people who give in order to receive a lot of fanfare, however, have already received any reward they will get. There are spiritual, mental, and emotional benefits that come only to those who give anonymously. If you’ve never done it before, try it.
4. Invest in People Intentionally
The highest level of unselfish thinking comes when you give of yourself to another person for that person’s personal development or well-being. If you’re married or a parent, you know this from personal experience. What does your spouse value most highly: money in the bank or your time freely given? What would small children really rather have from you: a toy or your undivided attention? The people who love you would rather have you than what you can give them. If you want to become the kind of person who invests in people, then consider others and their journey so that you can collaborate with them. Each relationship is like a partnership created for mutual benefit. As you go into any relationship, think about how you can invest in the other person so that it becomes a win-win situation. Here is how relationships most often play out:
I win, you lose—I win only once.
You win, I lose—You win only once.
We both win—We win many times.
We both lose—Good-bye, partnership!
The best relationships are win-win. Why don’t more people go into relationships with that attitude? I’ll tell you why: most people want to make sure that they win first. Unselfish thinkers, on the other hand, go into a relationship and make sure that the other person wins first. And that makes all the difference.
5. Continually Check Your Motives
François de la Rochefoucauld said, “What seems to be generosity is often no more than disguised ambition, which overlooks a small interest in order to secure a great one.” The hardest thing for most people is fighting their natural tendency to put themselves first. That’s why it’s important to continually examine your motives to make sure you’re not sliding backward into selfishness. Do you want to check your motives? Then follow the modeling of Benjamin Franklin. Every day, he asked himself two questions. When he got up in the morning, he would ask, “What good am I going to do today?” And before he went to bed, he would ask, “What good have I done today?” If you can answer those questions with selflessness and integrity, you can keep yourself on track.
GIVE WHILE YOU LIVE
In the fall of 2001, we all witnessed a demonstration of unselfish thinking unlike anything we had seen in the United States for many years. Who can forget the events of September 11, 2001? I had just finished teaching a leadership lesson when my assistant, Linda Eggers, came into the studio to announce the tragic news. Like most Americans, I remained riveted to the television all day and heard the reports of the firefighters and police officers who raced into the World Trade Center towers to help others, never worrying about their own safety. In the days following the tragedy, millions of Americans expressed a great desire to do something that would help the situation. I had the same desire. My company was scheduled to do a training via simulcast on September 15, the Saturday following the tragedy. Our leadership team decided to add a one-and-a-half-hour program titled
“America Prays” to the end of the simulcast. In it, my friend Max Lucado wrote and read a prayer, expressing the heart’s cry of millions. Franklin Graham prayed for our national leaders. Jim and Shirley Dobson gave advice to parents on how to help their children deal with the event. And Bruce Wilkinson and I asked the simulcast viewers to give financially to the people injured on September 11. Amazingly, they gave 5.9 million, which World Vision graciously agreed to distribute to those in need.
Unselfish thinking and giving turned a very dark hour into one of light and hope. Less than two weeks after the tragedy, I was able to travel to Ground Zero in New York City. I went to view the site of the destruction, to thank the men and women clearing away the wreckage, and to pray for them. I can’t really do justice to what I saw. I’ve traveled to New York dozens of times. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. My wife and I had been up in the towers with our children many times before and have wonderful memories of that area. To look at the place where the buildings had once stood and to see nothing but rubble,dust, and twisted metal—it’s simply indescribable. What manyAmericans didn’t realize is that for many months people worked diligently to clean up the site. Many were New York City firefighters and other city workers. Others were volunteers. They worked around the clock, seven days a week. And when they came across the remains of someone in the rubble, they called for silence and reverently carried them out. Since I am a clergyman, I was asked to wear a clerical collar upon entering the area. As I walked around, many workers saw the collar and asked me to pray for them. It was a humbling privilege. American educator Horace Mann said, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” According to this standard,
New York City’s firefighters are certainly prepared for death. The service they perform is often truly heroic. You and I may never be required to lay down our lives for others, as they did. But we can give to others in different ways. We can be unselfish thinkers who put others first and add value to their lives. We can work with them so that they go farther than they thought possible.
Am I continually considering others and their journey in order to think with maximum collaboration?