What is Selflessness?

Today, I want to write about selflessness. This topic is unique and strays slightly from the mission of 4WomenWorldwide. But when I feel compelled to write, I know that my dedicated readers will follow. (And I thank you :)).

As the new year dawned, it sparked in me the question of what is true selflessness? I reflected on an old “Friends” episode where the characters argue about whether even seemingly selfless acts have some aspect of selfishness. The idea was simple: even those good deeds we do make us feel good about ourselves and, thus, are not entirely selfless.

Marking an Anniversary

January 10th will mark the two-year anniversary of the passing of one of the most important and influential men in my life. Denis, the father of my best friend, died after a hard-fought battle with brain cancer. I wrote about it here. In my mind, he represented the epitome of selflessness.

He had a unique way of going through the world that let everyone he met feel the immense amount of love he had to give. He participated in local charities and was heavily devoted to his church. He always welcomed me with a big bear hug and a smile warm enough to take the New England cold from my bones.

I often find myself wondering what he would do in any given situation: life decisions, interpersonal relationships, or something as simple as how to enjoy the beauty of a sunny day. Denis would know the answers to all of these questions.

As humans we inevitably find ourselves making selfish decisions. I’ve done it, you’ve done it. It’s part of the human condition. The key is to recognize when we’ve made a mistake and do our best to learn moving forward.

As I began to grapple with the question of what true selflessness means to me I thought of Denis.

What would he say? I wish I could ask him.

When I posed the question to which I had yet to find a suitable answer, this is what came to me:

Selflessness is going above and beyond to help someone in need, even if it’s inconvenient.

Selflessness is making decisions with others in mind, even if the choice you face is one that you need to make for yourself. This means considering the effects might have on another and proceeding accordingly, with the negative impact on the other person as a factor in your decision.

Selflessness is responding with love in the face of anger.

Selflessness is truly understanding the perspective of another. This doesn’t mean simply being aware of it. This means really listening and being aware of the other person’s perspective and taking it to heart, even if that means meeting halfway on an issue.

Selflessness is loving even when you know you might lose.

If Denis were alive, he would likely have more to add. I admit, it is a somewhat obtuse question with a personal answer for everyone, perhaps.

On this anniversary, I want to honor Denis’ memory by memorializing his unique brand of selflessness. As the world continues to spin out of control with more violence and conflict, all I can think about is how to help. But I recognize that this is also selfish: it is what I believe I was born to do and I won’t have it any other way. Neither would Denis. He always told me I could do anything I wanted.

And so I turn the question over to you, dear reader: what does selflessness mean to you?

2 thoughts on “What is Selflessness?

  1. Great piece! Perhaps the start of ANY selfless act begins with having the heart (or desire) to do the act. Absent such heart, no actions can be done and no thought can begin.

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