What’s in it for me?
I’m not usually an eavesdropper, but the conversation on the subway got my attention.
“Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease?” the girl was saying as she gave her two college-age friends her most winning smile.
She needed a heavy piece of furniture moved. And soon. Would they be willing to help?
“I don’t know,” said the guy with the baseball cap. He made eye contact with the other guy, then asked, “What’s in it for us?”
I knew he was probably teasing her—and that they would end up helping her out. But his joking question stuck with me. I wondered: Is it just human nature to be calculating and self-interested? Is it natural to think of ourselves before we think of others?
Speaking for myself, I don’t think that a “What’s in it for me?” attitude necessarily has to do with a lack of generosity. Call it a survival instinct that I’m not always even conscious is operating. But when I step back and look at my thought process, I can see how sometimes—even in a split-second of decision-making—issues of time, money, effort, even a fear that I’m being taken advantage of, all come into play.
Ever since that conversation on the subway, though, I’ve been inspired to pray not just to express more selflessness, but to embody more Christliness. For me at least, selflessness is a quality I embrace and aspire to; but it’s not always sufficient. In fact, it can feel a lot like human effort—with all the ego that can inadvertently go along with that. By contrast, Christliness allows me to put God first—to feel the power that comes from knowing I’m not an independent actor, but that my thoughts and actions are actually an expression of divine Love itself.
My prayers led me to an unexpected place—to a Bible story that I’ve read dozens of times since I first learned it in Sunday School. In this New Testament tale in the book of John, Jesus has been doing God’s work in the outskirts of town, and his healings have impelled a multitude of people to follow him. The problem is, it’s growing late, and the only food on hand is one “lad’s” five barley loaves and two small fishes. The part of this story that I’ve always focused on in the past is the dramatic conclusion: With this small amount of food, Jesus feeds the thousands. 1
This time, though, my prayers got me to stop on that lad with the loaves and fishes. It occurred to me that he had every right to be asking that question: “What’s in it for me?” Were those loaves and fishes his food for a week? Did he have a family to share them with? Even the disciples were skeptical: “What are they among so many?”
Given the probable downside to sharing, what was it that impelled that boy to hand over his provisions? I felt like my prayers were showing me that being in the presence of Christliness as he was—or acknowledging our own Christlike nature, as we can—is what removes barriers to unselfed love and radical generosity and healing. The power of that Christliness is unstoppable and all-encompassing. Just witness what happened when the lad yielded to it: More than five thousand people were blessed, and so was he.
Mary Baker Eddy described Christ as “the divine nature, the godliness which animated [Jesus].” 2 That moment on the subway has been a welcome reminder that each of us possesses that divine nature and expresses that godliness. Which means that the most natural thing in the world actually isn’t to say, “What’s in it for me?” Instead, with hearts and minds aligned with God, we’re always in the perfect position to listen for inspired solutions and then act on them—freely.
Topics: Friendship, Social activism | Tags: Christliness, courage, Helping Others, self-centeredness, selfishness, selflessness, sharing