Our world is undoubtedly troubled. People murder each other, millions are homeless or hungry, people steal, and ridicule, and lose hope; despair plagues us, yet still we fight back and rise again. When we see corruption, we combat it, and that’s admirable. That should be recognized. But there’s one trait we continually breed and even praise: selfishness.
Perhaps this could be said of any generation as it moved through their 20s, but ours seems – or is at least portrayed to be – especially selfish. If you need evidence, search the surfeit of 20-something self-help articles that litter the Internet. Some flat-out tell us to “be selfish,” but others are subtler than that. They pull you in with the seductive Marilyn Monroe quotes and convince you to love yourself above all else.
So how do we break out of our conditioned selfishness and learn to be selfless again? Here are four good places to start:
Listen to Papa Francis
Call him Pope Francis, His Holiness, Il Papa, Bishop of Rome, Jorge Bergoglio, or whatever tickles your fancy – no matter what you call him, you’ll still be referring to one of the coolest guys alive. I mean, in a time when the embarrassment we call the Westboro Baptist Church is trying to represent Christianity, he made Time’s Person of the Year. He aims to move the Church toward harmony and humility through total selflessness. A year ago, Pope Francis addressed a juvenile detention center: “Help one another always. One another. In this way, by helping one another, we will do some good.” You can’t deny the guy’s onto something.
Yeah, it’s easy to love our family and friends. It’s easy to love the people we’re expected to love. But what about the others? What about the people with whom you disagree? What if you push aside political agenda? Sexual orientation? Religion? What if you challenge yourself to love the people you’ve been so trained to hate?
Give to the poor
I know, I know, this is painfully trite, but if it’s still very worth mentioning. We get so caught up in what we want that we forget that others actually need. We get swept up in the stereotype of the homeless using donations to buy drugs and alcohol. Sure, sometimes we actually can’t afford to give away money (what up, college life), and sometimes the donation does go toward substance abuse, but imagine what a difference you could make, if even for a short time, to those people who really need you.
Keep others in mind
Too many self-help articles aimed at 20-somethings (mostly written by 20-somethings) give advice along the lines of, “You’re young! This is your time to be selfish! Do what makes you happy; don’t worry about anyone else.” I’m sorry but what? Why does being young give us the right to be selfish? If you hurt someone, are you immediately absolved once that person realizes you’re in your twenties? The truth of the matter is that we know better. We’re not kids. We’re adults who should analyze our thoughts and actions. To some degree, it does matter what other people think because it’s not all about us. Being a “free spirit” and being young and crazy and selfish and not worrying about others’ opinions and living it up while you can is romantic and sounds wonderful, but that it has its downsides.
While it might sound like I’m preaching from my high horse, I’m in the thick of things. I am fully aware of my own shortcomings. I struggle to be the person I know I should be. I know what it takes to overcome our culture of selfishness, but that doesn’t mean getting there is easy.