Wed | Mar 3, 2021

Trevor E. S. Smith | SELFISH Or SELFLESS: What Makes The Difference?

Published:Sunday | November 24, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Our SELF can move into one of two directions: Towards selfishness or to being selfless.

I am not sure that many people consciously decide to follow a path of selfishness. How, then, do we get trapped in that mode?


The attraction of ‘things’ is the main gateway to selfishness. Early in life, we learn the word ‘MINE’. Left unattended and uninformed, that is the start of our journey down the slippery slope towards selfishness.

‘MINE’ indicates a sense of ownership. However, the really dangerous thing is that it can also suggest exclusivity.

It is mine for my exclusive pleasure. Sharing is not necessary. I can do whatever I want with it.


Consider the potential implications of a personal and exclusive ‘MY’ and its attachment to ‘things’.

The attachment leads to the perception that my ‘things’ are actually an extension of me. Consequently, anything that has the potential to harm my ‘things’, impacts me personally.

Damaging my car is the same as injuring me.

On the slippery slope to selfishness, I learn to place high regard on the idea that I call ‘Me’. I transfer my importance to my things, giving them higher value. Items of little real worth get elevated to the equivalent of the value of a life.

There is another twist.

Once this mindset takes hold, the next logical thing is to accept the notion that given the value of my ‘things’, I have to keep them close to me.

If I share them with others, I run the risk of getting them damaged, worn down, or even lost!

That perspective reinforces the need for my treasured possessions to be for my exclusive use. Sharing is just too risky.


The ‘MY/MINE’ trap does not apply only to physical things. I might define myself in terms of my job or what I consider to be my lofty position.

How I interpret the status and privileges related to my role can lead me down a path to selfishness and a disregard for the feelings and needs of others.

Unbridled arrogance can lead me to abuse my authority. I might also venture into unethical or uncouth behaviour. Trapped in the cocoon of my status, I am consumed with SELF and exclude any meaningful consideration of others or respect for them.


Listening to the dialogue in teams and groups can provide insights into the extent to which there is a spirit of selfishness or selflessness.

Track the frequency with which MY is used instead of OUR. Monitor the use of I instead of WE.

It is not rocket science. The way we speak provides tell-tale signs as to where we stand between selflessness and selfishness.

We move in the direction of selflessness when WE, OUR, and US become a natural and frequent part of team vocabulary.


While we are encouraged to strive for success, many are not able to effectively manage its attainment.

This is another platform from which SELF soars.

With success comes the challenge of managing differentiation. My success provides bases on which I can identify differences with others. I am not the same as those who are less successful.

The extent to which I and others get sucked into focusing on those differences determines how steep is my slippery slope to selfishness.

Since I am not the same, I should not be treated equally. I need special attention and privileges. I refuse to conform to the norms of the group and develop antisocial habits. I am allowed to continue by leadership because I am special. The group is not large enough to contain my expanded SELF.

This mindset disrupts the dynamics of the team or group and, indeed, society as a whole.


1. We are merely stewards of our ‘things’. There is no permanence with things. Here today, gone tomorrow. Getting attached to anything in this life is inviting conflict, pain, frustration, and unhappiness.

2. At our core, we are merely flesh and blood. Success does not make us fundamentally different from others. Were it not for the grace of God, the roles could easily have been reversed.

3. Use your success to impact others. Now that you have arrived, look outwards. Challenge yourself to achieve meaningful impact by empowering others.


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- Trevor E. S. Smith, Success with People Academy. We help develop high-performance teams. We are interpersonal relations, group dynamics, and performance-enhancement specialists. We provide learning and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. We offer personal, team, sales, sports and reasoning assessments from Extended DISC and the revolutionary FinxS Values Platform and develop e-competency frameworks with our SPIKE solution. Email: