Disagreements are a normal part of our human existence. Especially these days, it seems. At times it feels like we are more committed to disagreeing with one another than we are to finding common ground. We would rather be right than kind, right than wrong, right than open to learning a new perspective. Which only leaves us with a bunch of people always feeling right, but the end result is a culture that feels completely wrong.
Recently, I was unwillingly and sadly brought into a conversation that felt like a new bottom for humanity. Friends of mine were discussing the significance and the power of giving back and volunteering. They were sharing stories about some recent projects they supported, both with their time and treasure, and how rewarding the experiences were for both themselves and the lives they touched. Truthfully, I wish more conversations were centered on topics like this, rather than the mind-numbing, trivial rhetoric we often hear in conversions or see coming across the thousands of media impressions bombarding us on any given day. So, I was inspired by the sharing that was taking place… right until the moment, I wasn’t.
Someone listening in on our conversation decided to offer his unsolicited opinion by asking, “Isn’t volunteering, donating, and giving back really just a selfish act? As much people think they are doing it to help others, they are really just doing it because it makes them feel good, right?”
Really? That’s what it has come to? That doing good is just selfish?
In the spirit of being open-minded and trying to better understand, I decided to do some basic research on the matter and found some compelling facts to support his argument. According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering:
- Decreases the risk of depression
- Gives a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills
- Helps people stay physically and mentally active
- Reduces stress levels
- Helps people live longer
- Helps develop new relationships and community
Pretty impressive benefits. Sounds kind of like the same benefits one might enjoy from exercising, sleeping, meditating, praying, eating right, and spending more time with friends and family all wrapped up into one pretty little selfish package. The only difference is the intention behind all of these activities—I exercise, sleep, meditate, pray, eat right, and spend time with friends because I benefit from all of them. My exercising doesn’t burn calories for someone else. My diet doesn’t lower someone else’s cholesterol. I do these things for my benefit only, which one might describe as selfish, but they are strangely never seen that way… even though the logic and intention clearly show that they are only for me.
Yet, volunteering or giving back, which provides me with the same health benefits, but also helps other people is, in fact, selfish. Interesting.
As someone who changed his life by committing to living a life of service, this argument is one that could easily spike my blood pressure and turn up my body heat a little bit. I’ve only dedicated the last ten years of my life helping people understand how much and why they matter and inspiring them to live a life that is not about them. I’ve only written three books about it, started a non-profit that creates programs to help people actualize it in their life, and have spoken on stages in front of thousands of people about it. But I am not going to choose anger. I am not going to let it ruffle my feathers. Instead, I am going to agree with him.
Yes, giving back is selfish. So, I have an idea… Let’s create the most selfish world we have ever created. Let’s make sure that every single person, in our world of nearly 8 billion people, wakes up every day with the goal of selfishly being kind to others, selfishly volunteering once a week, selfishly donating to a cause or causes, selfishly being present for someone in need, selfishly picking up litter, selfishly treating a stranger to coffee, selfishly giving out compliments on the regular, selfishly smiling at others, selfishly creating a legacy of empathy and compassion.
If we had a world like that, I could shut down my organization, Every Monday Matters. I could stop writing books. I could retire, knowing that the good work has been done. Because that is the most beautiful world I can ever imagine and what I work so tirelessly every day to inspire.
Hmmm, I guess that’s selfish of me, isn’t it?