One late night, during the 1960’s an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride.
Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. Fortunately, a young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of during this racially-charged decade. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance, and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry! She quickly wrote down his address, thanked him as the taxi drove away.
Seven days went by and a knock came on the man’s door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.
This story shows how we can help others and unselfishly serve. Even the smallest of efforts can be a blessing for both the giver and the receiver. For example, when you are walking in the streets of your major city (e.g., San Francisco) and you see a homeless person, look him in the eye with loving kindness and say hello. Most people don’t ever look the homeless in the eye – making them feel alone and not special.
Selfish actions like these are a perfect illustration of how most of us tend to serve one another. Basically, what it boils down to is when my personal desires, comforts and needs are meant then I’ll find the time to help someone else. In fact when we get so caught up in our own personal wants and needs we don’t even realize that we’re engaging in totally selfish behavior. Instead, what we need to do is to step back and take some time to evaluate what we spend most of our time and energy on and look at the tradeoffs.
Often I have clients making career changes midlife and they want help in breaking a selfish cycle they might be going through. I have developed a three-step process that can help you become more aware of when you need to care:
- Realize that you’re being selfish.
- Step back and question why you’re being selfish at any given time.
- Consider what you might be missing out on in the future by not helping someone else.
Remember, selflessness is marked by unselfish giving rather than status quo “what’s in it for me living.” Next time you see someone who you can help, go out of your way and help him/her. I assure you’ll be amazed what you receive in return.