A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone about relationships. As the conversation progressed I told this person they were selfish and that selfishness was the exact opposite of love.
Telling someone their actions are selfish can turn them off and immediately shut them down to whatever comes next so I approached the conversation in a careful, empathetic way. First, I said selfishness isn’t always something obvious and ugly. Most selfishness doesn’t manifest itself like a three-year-old who demands a toy and constantly says no to get his or her way. Adult selfishness is subtler than that.
I acknowledged more often than I’d care to admit, I’m selfish. I think my selfishness was most manifest when I was competing in bodybuilding. During those years everything revolved around me – what I ate, when I ate, my time at the gym, when I would rest, go to sleep, etc. When I say I was selfish I simply mean I put myself and my needs ahead of Jane and anyone or anything else. I didn’t stray from my routine because first and foremost I was concerned about me. In other words; during those years it was all about me.
When I talk about love being the opposite of selfishness I’m not talking about the love we feel for a spouse, parent or child. As wonderful as that love is it can be fleeting and erratic because our feelings depend on so many things and change so easily. If you only did good deeds when you felt like it you might not do them too often.
The love I’m talking about is putting another person’s good ahead of your own. This kind of love doesn’t depend on feelings but rather choices. I don’t always feel loving towards my wife, daughter or others but I can still choose to put their wants, needs and desires ahead of my own. The choice is to make the other person the priority instead of me.
You might be thinking this kind of love will set you up to be a doormat for others. Some people will take advantage of your kindness for sure but for the most part I think it’s the opposite. When you truly love people, most will reciprocate in some way. Why? Because most people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. That’s the principle of reciprocity in action.
Long before Robert Cialdini’s research, the study of social psychology or the emergence of behavioral economics wise people understood reciprocity. The golden rule was given to mankind more than 2,000 years ago and it encourages you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It doesn’t tell you to wait and see what someone else will do first and then respond. It tells you to take the first step. It’s a step of faith because there’s no guarantee everyone will reciprocate every time. But think about it; when you love you didn’t put someone else ahead of yourself to get something in return. That’s not how love works. You love because it’s the right thing to do. You love because it’s the best way to live life. You love because you want the best for that other person.
I’m glad to say my conversation went well and the person I spoke to was very receptive. I truly believe if more people loved you the way I just described your life would be better. I also believe if you love people that way you’ll make their lives better. It has to start somewhere so why not with you? I encourage you to look for opportunities to do good for others this week. No matter how anyone responds you will get something in return, a wonderful feeling knowing you’re doing life the right way.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE and Learning Director for State Auto Insurance. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 135,000 times! Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.