Why should anyone want to live a life of selfless courage and service to others – above self? It is a fair question.
There are a number of ways to respond to this sort of question. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner put it this way: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
In the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam M. Grant, we learn that there are distinct social interaction types associated with being a taker, a matcher and a giver. We can be any of these, none and all of them depending upon whom we are interacting with.
Evidence shows us that most people have a primary style with which they approach their professional interactions – this style can play as much a part in their success as talent, hard work and luck.
While it seems counterintuitive, studies show that over long time periods individuals which are identified as givers show up on the top and bottom of the performance scales.
Giving; the act of putting someone else’s interest ahead of your own, can be empowering and successful.
Grant had this to say, “This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Paying it forward, giving, investing in the future – a life of selfless courage, devoted to others and the greater good isn’t a popular idea, or one that you’ll see promoted typically. It seems so out of phase with the media messages of self-centric thinking and ego.
The rewards of contributing to the greater good aren’t always immediate, and they aren’t always tangible. And yet the payoff is greater than most imagine.
I think the answer is probably best expressed by Jim Collins in the conclusion to his book, Good to Great:
In the end it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps then you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions; knowing that in your short time on earth has been well spent and that it mattered.
I suspect that all of us desire to live a life that has made a difference, not a life plated in silver and gold, fame and fortune, homes and cars, and other such stuff. Rather we desire to live a life that leaves in its wake others who do the same: embrace that call to lead, inspire, and serve –others who serve as beacons of hope and the promise of a better future.
A life of significance.