On the surface, John D. Rockefeller, the industrial tycoon, seems to be a conflicted character. While he was keenly focused on amassing as much personal wealth as possible, the original American billionaire is also regarded as the original American philanthropist. In America, the most prosperous are usually the most generous in improving the welfare of others, while those of average economic standing, who are just as capable of helping those in need, tend to devote themselves to the needs of others infrequently, if at all. No matter your economic standing, I believe selflessness is an individual’s highest virtue. First, it is empowering for an individual to know that they can make a substantive difference in another person’s life. More importantly, selflessness can encourage great progress towards a more just and prosperous society.
I have done a lot of community service in my life, but I am not going to stand here and say that it has drastically changed who I am. I have built houses for Habitat, but it did not make me want to be an architect. I have tutored students in High School who underperformed, but it did not make me want to be a teacher. What I can say is that helping others has given me a better sense of what I can achieve, and it has given me the belief that my blessings would be wasted if spent just on me and not on anyone else.
I came to this belief by reading a famous quote by Rockefeller’s son, John Jr., in his speech entitled “I believe.” He said, “I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.”
In my own volunteering experiences, I have found that helping others in need is very personally rewarding. This is perhaps the most selfish aspect of selflessness: you get a high out of volunteering; it makes you feel good. However, I think the most important effect of a person’s selflessness is the mindset that they will develop as a result of working for a cause that may not result in a cash payment or public recognition. Selflessness reaffirms the notion that there are causes out there that are greater than ourselves. To me, selflessness means knowing that you are not the most important person in the world. Your endeavors for financial prosperity and personal security are well intentioned, but they pale in importance to the work that we all must undertake to ensure that the less fortunate can have the opportunity to pursue these same endeavors.
The more that people in our society realize this fact, the more possible it becomes to progress toward goals of justice and equality. In a time of such a historic achievement in race relations, it is very important to remember in the coming days, weeks, months and years, one of the key beliefs of the man we have named our national leader: Service to our brothers and sisters is the way to advance equality and bring change to our society.