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January 10, 2014

People are not against you — they are for themselves



The other day, I overhead someone say, “People aren’t against you — they are for themselves.”  My first reaction was that the statement bore some truth.  It has been my experience that people tend to look out for their own best interest.  In law enforcement, we hear both sides of the story and each person tells a version that puts them in the most favorable light.  This doesn’t make them evil; it just means that humans are biased in favor of themselves.
 There are people who will always have their own best interest in mind no matter what the scenario.  These are the people who only give attention to those who can do something for them and disregard all others.  We all know the type.  They align themselves with perceived power and shift their alignment to the person who can maximize their gain.  Their lives are analogous to a chess board comprised of strategic plays that afford them the most momentum for advancement.  These are the people that are for themselves.
I like to think that the average human debunks this hypothesis (admittedly I have a tendency to fall on the side of idealism) but the truth is, there is evidence all around us of people putting others before themselves.
Because I tend to (over)analyze, I started to really struggle with the notion that people are for themselves and thus began an internal argument and every shred of evidence I gathered seemed to prove the contrary. 

Parenting is an easy example.  When we become parents, something shifts within us and we know we would sacrifice everything for the well-being of our children.  Good parents go without to ensure their children have what they need. We don’t do this for a potential gain.  We do it because we will do whatever it takes to make them feel loved and safe.
When the phone rings and on the other end of that line is a friend in distress, you drop everything and go.  Suddenly your schedule that was so vital and inflexible ceases to matter when compared to being needed in that moment.  

The truth is, most of what motivates us intrinsically is born from connections with others.
Think of a time when you were recognized for something big.  Whether it be an award you were given or a game you helped win.  Think of how you felt in the moment of triumph and accomplishment.  As you looked out into the audience, the first thing you did was scan to find the faces of those who mean something to you. 

That’s why acceptance speeches begin with, “I want thank (insert person here)” — because you recognize that your achievement was not possible without the love and support of the important people in your life. 

In that moment, you are not thinking, “I am so awesome!”  You are thinking how good it feels to make those people proud and you realize you do what you do because of that.  It is that feeling to which we cling.  It is that feeling that motivates us.
Kent State pitcher hugs his mom after winning championship
We want to win for the coach.  We want to win for our boss.  We want to succeed to make others proud.  When we are lucky enough to care about someone and something bigger than us, it moves us to perform at our highest level.  The times I am at my best is when I am not giving a thought to my own interest but to someone else’s.
If most people acted only in self-interest, there wouldn’t be first responders who sacrifice their own lives for strangers.  There wouldn’t be kind people who return a wallet they’ve found or help someone in distress.  There wouldn’t be charitable agencies and volunteers that exist only to serve others. 
So yes, some people are only for themselves.  They may appear successful on the surface but they walk a lonely and isolated road because true meaning comes from connections with others.
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