The Art of Being Selfless & Still Getting What You Want

In May of 2013, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer delivered a commencement speech to Middlebury College. You can read his full speech here, and I highly recommend you do, but there’s one part in particular that has always stood out to me and even came to light just last week in my own life. 

(Check out this week's podcast episode for the full story.)

He says,

“Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs.”

I watch the world, day after day, and I notice something you’ll no doubt notice for yourself, too, if you begin to observe people. 

We are a selfish society, always looking for ways to get, and once we get, we want to get more.

In many ways, we’re taught to take advantage of what the world has to offer, and in many ways, this is helpful. In other ways, it’s detrimental, though, because it never stops to teach us to be what the world has to offer— to offer ourselves to the world instead of always being on the hunt for what we can take from the world. 

What if, instead of walking around wondering what the world could give to us, we started walking around wondering what we could give to the world?

What if instead of thinking “What do I need?” we lead our lives thinking, “What does he need? What does she need?”

I can’t help but be overcome with joy thinking about a world like that— a world where we used our lives to be attentive to the needs of others rather than always attending to our own needs. Perhaps— in fact, I know it to be true because of the crazy, cosmic forces at work in this universe— if we began to live this way, our needs would innately subside and be satisfied. 

Not everyone is crying in public, as Foer suggests, but everyone is still in need of something that you can give. 

Yes, you. 

What is that something?

Are you giving it?