A doctor, a lawyer, a little boy and a priest were out for a Sunday afternoon flight on a small private plane. Suddenly, the plane developed engine trouble. In spite of the best efforts of the pilot, the plane started to go down. Finally, the pilot grabbed a parachute and yelled to the passengers that they better jump, and he himself bailed out.

Unfortunately, there were only three parachutes remaining.

The doctor grabbed one and said “I’m a doctor, I save lives, so I must live,” and jumped out.

The lawyer then said, “I’m a lawyer and lawyers are the smartest people in the world. I deserve to live.” He also grabbed a parachute and jumped.

The priest looked at the little boy and said, “My son, I’ve lived a long and full life. You are young and have your whole life ahead of you. Take the last parachute and live in peace.”

The little boy handed the parachute back to the priest and said, “Not to worry, the smartest man in the world just took off with my back pack.”

The point of this story is that thinking about what is best for you does not always prove to be the most suitable choice, with a tendency to justify our acts. But do our acts benefit others and take into account what their needs are?

Sometimes selfishness seems the best way. 

Being self interested is often considered a benefit, for if you are to give your time and money for others then there is less time and money for yourself. So what is so wrong about being selfish if it is a benefit to oneself? Let’s look at selfishness from three different perspectives. 

  1. Bad selfishness. What makes selfishness bad is when one or more persons lose something or is hurt in the process of another persons gain or benefit. Selfishness from this perspective tends to stem from the absence of certain emotions or the presence of others that may signal selfish motivations. While the gain or benefit for the selfish person may be temporary, the consequences outweigh temporary gains. This can be seen in selfish acts such as assault and fraud, which can result in fines and incarceration.
  2. Neutral selfishness. Taking care of yourself would fit into this category of selfishness. Taking the time to prepare a healthy meal, ensuring that you get the proper amount of sleep, drinking adequate amounts of water, and brushing your teeth would be considered acts that neither take away from someones else’s well being nor adds to it. 
  3. Good selfishness. This perspective of selfishness benefits both ourselves and other people. This can be going on a bike ride with someone and exchanging laughter while building lasting memories. Buying a house is considered another aspect of good selfishness because even though the seller lost the house, he gained monetary value. And while the buyer lost money, he gained a house. 

Yet communal goals and values benefit all individuals involved.

The concept of good selfishness was studied amongst 5th graders when they were asked which method of goal teaching was more valued.

Competitive: “the challenge of seeing who is best”

Individualistic: “enjoying solving problems all on her or his own efforts”

Communal: “it’s a good idea to help each other learn” and “you can learn a lot of important things from each other”

The results showed that both African American and White 5th grade students preferred communal classroom goals. When we have this concept of learning from each other and valuing each others insights, it breaks down the barriers between what occupation you are in, which neighborhood you live in, and even what family you are a part of. 

When one exhibits selfishness that is at the expense of other people, it can break any supportive connection with the other individuals. Yet, when you display otherish motivation, or caring for the needs of others, it has the effect to build supportive connections with others. For seeing value in another persons life and yours, it depends crucially upon creating, maintaining, and strengthening the social bonds with each other, no matter our race, socioeconomic status, or beliefs.

And this is how to obtain genuine unselfishness.

To find value in another person when it is so much easier to put your needs and desires above the other, means to love unselfishly and aspire to do what is best for them without any motivation for reciprocation. This is true unselfishness that exceeds good selfishness or communal values. The best part is that these altruistic acts and desires can be obtained by stimulating your prefrontal cortex. The best ways to do this is by:

  • Breathing. Slow-paced breathing, in a controlled manner, at the right frequency can result in vagal nerve activation. When the vagus nerve is activated it stimulates your prefrontal cortex, which aids in your decision and judgement making, and helps you to resist temptations. The vagus nerve stimulation and the triggering of the prefrontal cortex brings about a more generous attitude and unselfish behavior.
  • Being mindful. Every day we are faced with about 70,000 thoughts that pop into our minds. Being mindful is to replace any negative thought or action resulting from your thought with something that is beneficial and good. All empty spaces are going to be filled with something. Good or bad. Most likely your environment triggers your thoughts, therefore the first thing to do is change your environment so that your outcome can be changed. 
  • Exercise. Regular physical exercise increases the production of new brain cells and increases your levels of dopamine, which are released in your prefrontal cortex. 
  • Sleep. The prefrontal cortex is sensitive to fatigue that is induced by prolonged hours of being awake. So being sure to get the proper amount of sleep at set bedtimes will increase your frontal cortical activity.
  • Selection of food. It has been shown that when one is obese, there is lower activation of the prefrontal cortex. So consuming foods that lower the prevalence of obesity would consist of minimally processed whole foods such as: 

Whole grains (whole wheat, steel cut oats, brown rice, quinoa)

Vegetables (a colorful variety-not potatoes) 

Whole fruits (not fruit juices) 

Nuts, seeds, beans, and other healthful sources of protein (lentils, quinoa, and tempeh) 

Plant oils (olive and other vegetable oils)

As you are given this new day filled with 24 hours, how are you going to use it to see the value in every individual?