What I’ve Learned About Selflessness: It’s a Winning Strategy
Selflessness is a winning strategy when dedicated to a worthwhile cause or goal that is bigger than any one individual. Dictionary definitions of selflessness highlight a limited view of this concept with a focus on phrases like “not caring about yourself” or “putting the needs of others before your own.” In practice, selflessness is always a balance between one’s own needs and the needs of others. Virtually none of us can exist completely alone without the help of others. No organization or social entity can exist without a degree of disinterest on the part of its members.
Stephan Curry and Kevin Durant of the National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Golden State Warriors basketball team provide excellent character references to demonstrate the benefits of selfless action. None of these players will go broke, whether they are selfless or not, but their actions speak volumes about the benefits of thinking beyond one’s own ego and well-being.
In 2017, Curry’s five-year, $201 million contract made him the highest-paid player in NBA history. Simon Cherin-Gordon on the Hoopshabit website mused that “An all-time great in his own right, Curry’s only skill that surpasses his three-point shooting is his generosity.” Curry’s willingness to go to any lengths to recruit superstar Kevin Durant to join the Warriors speaks volumes. Some sports experts criticized Curry for being soft for joining forces with another star and giving up a few shots to improve his team.
But Kevin Durant since joining the Warriors has shown his own brand of selflessness. After the 2017 NBA season, he was eligible for a contract that would have paid $34 million per year, but agreed to a deal that was $9 million less to give the Warriors the financial resources to recruit and keep talent.
Durant discussing his relationship with Curry said, “What you hear about Steph sacrificing and being selfless and caring about her teammates and other people is real,” Durant said. “It’s not fake. It’s not a facade. He doesn’t put on this mask to come in and pretend in front of you. It’s amazing to see a superstar who doesn’t care about anything but the group.”
The main problem regarding disinterest is the degree to which one acts in accordance with the needs of the group as opposed to the needs of the individuals within the group. The survival of the individual is an imperative. Not being able to meet one’s own needs for basic essentials helps no one. But human beings are social creatures. All social creatures are ultimately dependent on their group for survival and therefore have a role to play in the group’s ability to meet their needs.
The biggest obstacle to practicing selfless action is the idea that selflessness is an all or nothing concept. The key to effective selfless action lies in the ability to strike a viable balance between one’s own needs and the needs of others. We should not be limited by terms like “all or nothing” or “always and never” when making decisions regarding selfless actions.
Determining whose needs, our own or those of others, are being met is highly situational and highly dependent on the nature of the need. Needing change for a quarter is not the same as needing a blood transfusion. In addition, one must consider the costs to oneself of meeting another person’s need relative to the potential benefits to the other party, as well as the personal consequences of providing the necessary assistance.
For many people, the personal satisfaction of helping someone in need is enough of a reward to make the effort worthwhile. Real selflessness generates actions that benefit others without expectation that the giver will feel good about helping, or even receive recognition. Truly selfless giving has no strings attached. There is no need to feel good about ourselves beyond the satisfaction that we are doing our part to help our fellow human beings who need it to the best of our abilities. One day we might be at the extreme of “need.”
Our relationships with other human beings largely define who we are as individuals. Relationships are based on friendships, family ties, community fellowship, political affiliations, and other social associations. Each individual is part of a larger community. The issue of selflessness becomes one of our roles in advancing causes greater than any individual.
To the extent that we see our selfless help in the broader context of a duty to our fellow men, we can be sure that we are doing our part. All of us are part of communities of individuals with goals and aspirations. The success of any organization depends on the contributions of its members. If members withhold or limit their contribution due to selfish selfishness, the organization as a whole suffers.
If you want to consider ways to be more selfless, think about the important relationships you value with other people and groups: your family, friends, work groups, sports teams, any association in which you have valuable membership. Don’t be seduced by “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me!). If you truly value your relationships, you have an obligation to make them as productive and rewarding as possible. Selfless actions are bigger than any individual because they benefit causes that are bigger than the individual.
The selfless actions of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant and their thoughtfulness and devotion to the Golden State Warriors gave them something neither of them could have achieved alone: the 2018 NBA Championship. What I’ve learned about selflessness is that it’s truly a winning strategy.