I asked Liezel to offer her thoughts and feelings on the important topic of selflessness. Here is what she shared.
Someone who is being selfless, in a world where it is every person for themselves.
A world where people step on others to get ahead and where people have no consideration for their fellow man.
Seeing a selfless person in THIS world is a rare sighting, something akin to a yeti or a unicorn. Yes, some of you might even argue that, like yetis or unicorns, selfless people do not exist.
To that I say, shut your unimaginative mouth.
Don’t be that cynic (there is always one) who believes that there is no unselfish good deed, just because it makes you feel good doing a good deed or being selfless.
If you hold out a hope that there is at least one person who selflessly goes through life spreading love, smiles, and good vibes, then you hold onto that hope.
Don’t let these cynics tarnish your dreams.
Better yet, instead of believing that there is some person somewhere in the world who is being selfless, here’s a fun game… be selfless.
But you can’t BE selfless if you don’t know what it is, actually, you might already be selfless and you don’t even know it.
Look at you, winning at life!
What is selflessness?
Selflessness, or the act of being selfless, is best described as when a person does something or gives something for or to someone else without regard for themselves or their own safety.
Take the Greek mythological legend of Philemon and Baucis, a poor, elderly married couple who lived in a small town.
The Greek gods Zeus and Hermes disguised themselves as peasants and went about begging in the town for a place to sleep. Who knows why the ancient Greek gods did what they did!
I digress, not one of the wealthy people in the town would house these gods in disguise, no one except old Phil and Bau!
They, selflessly, fed the gods and let them have a place to sleep.
You could argue that they were just being hospitable, and you would be right.
There are many ways to be selfless.
Selflessness can be demonstrated through hospitability, as in our tale here, or self-sacrifice, self-denial, the act of extravagant giving of one’s time or resources (or if you are feeling particularly selfless, both), or just the act of giving from your own abundance (also known as donating).
Selflessness can be seen in the scene in the movie Aladdin, where, after he got away with stealing the bread, he sees 2 starving children and he shares his bread with them.
Brave and seemingly fearless acts such as saving someone from drowning by jumping into a raging river, or running into a burning building to save a dog, are also examples of the importance of selflessness.
The dictionary offers the definition of selflessness as “the quality of caring more about what other people need and want than about what you yourself need and want”
How to cultivate selflessness?
Unfortunately, there is no quick how-to guide with a 5 step plan to get you from selfish to selfless.
Selflessness is learned behaviour.
Our minds are wired for survival, so for many people, selflessness is not their first response, sometimes it is not even in their arsenal of responses.
Many people learned the importance of selflessness as a child from their families, for these people being selfless comes more naturally.
This is simply because the learned behavior has become a habit.
People who grew up in an environment where selflessness was not a regular occurrence would find it harder to give away their things, time, or money to some stranger.
Selflessness is sacrifice and sacrifice is difficult.
But there is something that makes sacrifice bearable, something that takes the sting out of giving above and beyond yourself.
That thing is love.
When you have love for people (I am talking about all people, not just your inner circle and that one friend with the boat) you don’t want to see them hurt, wanting, or suffering.
Love has the ability to make our own sacrifice seem like it is nothing, especially when you see the effect that it has had on the person in need.
Love, contrary to popular belief, is not enough, though.
It is not enough to love everyone, we need to have empathy and these emotions should be followed by an action.
Many people confuse sympathy with empathy.
Sympathy is when you feel sorry or pity for someone because they are going through a difficult time or have pain.
Empathy is when you feel or understand someone’s pain as if it is your own, you feel as if you are in their difficult time with them.
Love and empathy together with action towards bettering someone’s life causes us to be selfless.
The action that needs to follow is the crucial part.
It is not enough to simply feel the love and empathy but that is where it ends.
True selflessness shines through in actions.
The denying of ourselves for the sake and benefit of others.
Actions really do speak louder than words.
Saying to someone “I am so sorry that you don’t have food” is not nearly as powerful as giving that person some food or even your food, or giving a person a warm coat in the middle of winter.
Actions are what make a difference!
Risks of Selflessness
There are some risks to being selfless.
As mentioned, people are intrinsically wired to be selfish, to look out for number 1.
So when a selfless person meets a selfish person, we have a recipe for disaster.
The nature of these 2 people are totally opposite and ultimately the selfish person will drain the selfless person of everything, like a leech, a parasite.
Selflessness should not be seen as being an endless pool of time, money, and resources that can just be accessed when the need strikes.
There is a real person behind the selfless acts of kindness.
When a friend loses their job and can’t pay the rent and you let them crash on your couch for a few months while they get back on their feet, that is selflessness.
When that friend stays with you for years, eats all your food, never looks for a new job, and eventually starts sleeping in your bed and you find yourself on the couch, then, my friend, you have a parasite and you need to do an extraction.
Another risk is that people can be so selfless that they lose themselves in the process.
Oftentimes, selfless people are so overwhelmed with love or empathy with someone’s situation that they give and give and give of themselves that they eventually give themselves completely.
Don’t lose your sense of self, also, don’t place your sense of self in the act of being selfless.
Both are dangerous, both happen gradually, piece by piece, over time without you realizing it.
Then one day when you have helped and given so much that you have nothing for yourself, you realize where you are and you don’t know how you got there.
That is why you should get into the practice of setting boundaries for yourself and for others.
How to set boundaries while still being selfless
Boundaries is not a swearword.
It is a misunderstood word, especially amongst the selfless.
Surely people who are selfless should not be so selfish as to have boundaries? Bull!!
You can be selfless with healthy boundaries, and you damn well should.
These boundaries are to protect you from things like burnout, letting unbalanced people feed off of you, losing a sense of self, or getting to a place of need yourself.
There is a powerful word in the English language that sets up boundaries like no other.
No doesn’t mean never, it can mean not now, it can mean later, or if you feel like it, it sure as heck can mean never as well.
But with great power comes great responsibility.
Part of the importance of selflessness are the connections and relationships formed.
And in these relationships, the word “NO” can be detrimental.
Does this mean that you should say yes all the time instead?
Oh, hell no.
It just means that sometimes your boundary doesn’t need to be a 6-foot wall with barbed wire and a massive Rottweiler as a guard dog.
You could have a little rose bush hedge as a boundary where you and the person on the other side can share a laugh and still enjoy the sweet smell of the roses.
Don’t be spontaneous with your boundaries.
Once you have set a boundary this should stay, so you need to make sure that the boundary you set with your time, money, talents, or other resources is reasonable for you.
In closing, the importance of selflessness in any society cannot be overstated. Love those around you, empathize with them and act on these feelings to help and give from what you have, but make sure you protect yourself in the process.
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