What I’ve Learned About Selflessness: It’s a Winning Strategy

Selflessness is a winning strategy when it is dedicated to a worthwhile cause or goal that is larger than any single individual. Dictionary definitions of selflessness highlight a narrow view of this concept with a focus on phrases such as “no concern for oneself” or “putting other’s needs above 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 entirely on our own without assistance from others. No organization or social entity can exist without a degree of selflessness 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 for demonstrating the benefits of selfless action. Neither of these players are going to go broke whether they are selfless or not, but their actions speak volumes about the benefits of thinking beyond one’s own ego, and welfare.

In 2017 Curry’s five-year $201 million contract made him the highest paid player in NBA history. Simon Cherin-Gordon on the Hoopshabit web site mused that “An all-time great player in his own right, the only skill of Curry’s that surpasses his three-point shooting is his unselfishness”. Curry’s willingness to go all out in recruiting superstar Kevin Durant to join the Warriors says a lot. Some sports pundits criticized Curry as being soft for joining forces with another star and giving up some shots to make his team better.

But Kevin Durant since joining the Warriors has demonstrated 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 he agreed to a deal that was $9 million less to give the Warriors the financial resources to recruit and maintain talent.

Durant discussing his relationship to Curry said “The stuff you hear about Steph sacrificing and being selfless and caring about his 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 fake in front of you guys. It’s amazing to see a superstar who doesn’t care about nothing but the group.”

The main issue regarding selflessness is the degree to which one acts in accordance with the group’s needs as opposed to the needs of individuals within the group. The survival of the individual is an imperative. Failing to meet one’s own needs for basic essentials helps no one. But human beings are social creatures. All social creatures are ultimately dependent upon their group for survival and therefore have a role to play in the ability of the group to meet its needs.

The greatest stumbling block 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 workable balance between one’s own needs and the needs of others. We should not be constrained by terms like “all or none” or “always and never” when making decisions regarding selfless actions.

The determination of whose needs, our own or those of others, are being satisfied is highly situational and greatly dependent on the nature of the need. Needing change for a quarter is not the same as needing a blood transfusion. Additionally one must consider the costs to oneself of meeting someone else’s need relative to the potential benefits to the other party, as well as the personal consequences of providing the needed assistance.

For many people, the personal satisfaction of helping someone in need is sufficient reward to make the effort worthwhile. Real selflessness engenders actions that benefit others without expectations that the giver will feel good for helping, or even receive an acknowledgement. Truly selfless giving has no strings attached. It has no need for feeling good about ourselves beyond the satisfaction that we are meeting our obligations to help our fellow human beings in need to the best of our abilities. One day we might be on the “needing” end.

Our relationships with other human beings largely define who we are as individuals. Relationships are based on friendships, family ties, community fellowships, political affiliations, and other social associations. Each individual is a part of a larger community. The issue of selflessness becomes one of our role in the advancement of causes greater than any single individual.

To the extent that we view our selfless assistance in the larger context of a duty to our fellow human beings we can rest assured that we are doing our part. All of us are part of communities of individuals with goals and aspirations. The success of any organization is dependent on the contributions of its members. If members withhold or limit their contribution due to egoistic selfishness then the organization as a whole suffers.

If you would like to consider ways to be more selfless, think about important relationships that you value with other individuals and groups – your family, friends, work groups, sports teams – any association in which you hold valued membership. Do not 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 larger than any single individual because they benefit causes that are larger than the individual.

Steph Curry and Kevin Durant’s selfless actions and their thoughtfulness and devotion to the Golden State Warriors gave them something that neither of them could have achieved alone – the 2018 NBA Championship. What I have learned about selflessness is that it’s truly a winning strategy.

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