Selflessness is one of our favorite qualities in other people; but we so seldom see the importance of being selfless ourselves. This is a sad thing. Selflessness does not need to mean foolishness – we can be selfless and still not allow others to take advantage of us. When we learn to be selfless we will not only attract people to us, but we will discover a freedom that we could not obtain living our lives from an ego-centric viewpoint. We learn the absolute unimportance of the material. We learn the intricate nature of our fellow human beings; what “makes them tick”. We learn that, though we are unique, important and deserve respect, we are also very small in the grand scheme of earthly existence.
Today I would like to point out some of the characteristics of selflessness and explain to you why I think selflessness is so important. First, a selfless person learns to love without condition. This doesn’t mean that we have to love everyone in the same way that we love our significant other, or our children, or our mother. By unconditional love, I mean we must not love someone for a specific reason: “I love Johnny because he gives me pretty presents.” Or “I love Amy because she always helps me do the dishes.” If Johnny loses his job or Amy becomes a double-amputee and they can no longer buy you presents and help you do the dishes, you find yourself pushing them out of your life. This is not the nature of real love. In fact, there are many things that we call “love” in the English language that are not true love. We can say things like “I LOVE cheeseburgers!” and no one will think twice about this statement; but the truth is you probably just really like to eat cheeseburgers. If you loved them, after all, you would have an emotional attachment and eating them would be unthinkable. If you do have an emotional attachment to cheeseburgers, please seek help from a qualified health-care professional.
Real Love means that we give of ourselves without expecting anything in return. So, rather than “loving” someone because they do something beneficial for us, we take joy in creating happiness for them. We see a need and fill it because we desire happiness for others. We buy pretty presents for Johnny, or do dishes for Amy, not because we gain anything on a personal level, but because we wish for Johnny and Amy to be happy.
Second, a selfless person learns to love life. In this case, by love, I mean a deep respect. We honor other people and other living things first by respecting their right to be alive and to function according to their nature; then by showing them the kindness that we hope others would show to us, our family members, or our pets. This is acted out when we hold the door open for a stranger, pass a burger and fries to a homeless guy, let another car into our lane, or carry the neighbor’s cat back home instead of spraying him with the water hose. This sort of demonstration of respect can have a lasting effect on someone, especially on children, who are often not shown a great deal of respect.
Finally, a selfless person will learn to recognize the unimportance of the material. They are willing to give of their material possessions to those who are in need because they understand that they are replaceable. One winter my grandmother drove past a woman selling flowers on the road-side, she was holding a small baby close to her under a thin shawl, trying to keep her warm. My grandmother stopped her car, pulled out a much-loved blanket and gave it to the woman. Though this blanket had special meaning to my grandmother – it was a souvenir from one of the last trips she had taken with my grandfather before his death – she knew how badly this woman and, more importantly, her baby, needed this blanket. After all, it was only a blanket to my grandmother. For this woman, it meant warmth, and possibly protection against illness or death for her baby. My grandmother never saw the woman again, gained nothing from the interaction and probably doesn’t even remember it. This is the nature of selflessness – to do good simply for love of life; respect of life.
Through selfless actions we learn to free ourselves from our self. We learn to see through the eyes of others by learning to understand their needs and by listening to their stories. We learn that, while our stories are unique, they are not more meaningful than the stories of others.
There is so much emphasis placed on the self now days. We don’t have enough “Me Time”. If mothers/wives don’t take care of themselves how can they ever take care of someone else? “Be sure to make time for yourself” is heard over and over again, day after day, from the most respected doctors and newspersons and nearly every type of celebrity. On an online forum I read a post from a woman who felt inadequate because she couldn’t understand why it was she couldn’t find enough time for herself when women a hundred years ago didn’t ever seem to need time for themselves. She recalled how her grandmother spent her entire day working – household chores, gardening, taking care of her grandchildren and so on. The reason that these women did not seem to lose control when they didn’t get their hour of “Me Time” at the end of the day was that they were taught selflessness.
A hundred years ago, or even less, Mom and Dad were our reference for morality – meaning, we learned our morality from our parents, family and possibly our church. Now, there is such an influx of media, streaming into our lives everywhere we go (even TVs at fast-food restaurants) that it has become the new standard for our moral beliefs (and I could write for hours about that). When we here TV personalities like Dr. Oz or Oprah tell us that we need to be sure to make time for ourselves we think we need to. Great-grandma would have taught us that there are more important things in this life than ourselves and shown us that we can gain at least as much happiness by serving others as we can gain in serving ourselves.
I happen to believe in reincarnation. I believe that each lifetime we live is meant to teach us something. Even many religions that do not believe in reincarnation, believe that we are sent to Earth to learn a lesson. I believe that there is a specific reason we are living the life we live and that reason is that there is something specific that we are meant to learn in this lifetime. Someone who is a drug-addict living on the street in this lifetime, might come back in another lifetime as the Pope. Does this mean we should dress the drug-addict in robes and kiss his feet? Absolutely not. But, it does mean that we should offer him as much dignity and respect as we can without allowing him to infringe on our own rights in this lifetime. We should not offer him our money, or invite him into our home, but we also should not spit on him as we pass him on the street.