Editor's note: "The Spoken Word" is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.
It's easy in this self-focused world to become, well, self-focused. Our needs, our wants, our desires and ambitions can be so consuming that they crowd out other people. It's amazing, isn't it, how often we drown in things that can be so superficial.
Of course, few would fault a person for seeking to improve his or her life and living with purpose and goals. But when our pursuit of personal growth and happiness causes us to ignore others, it becomes selfishness, and that leads to stagnation, not growth; despair, not happiness; and, ultimately, loneliness. One observant writer put it this way: "Why worry about selfishness? … Because selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion" (see "Repent of (Our) Selfishness, (D&C 56:8)" by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1999).
When we reflect on the happiest times in our lives, the most meaningful moments in our memories, we often find that they came when we were helping another person: that time we stopped to help someone change a tire, the evening we turned off the television and spent time with a neighbor who needed a friend, the moment when we let someone who seemed stressed go ahead in line, the time we brought flowers to someone in the hospital, the night we stayed up late to talk with a worried teenager.
We were created with a purpose, and it wasn't just to look out for number one. We are here to love and serve each other. We are here to learn and grow, and we do that best in relation to other people. We are meant to be linked to one another as fellow travelers on this earth. Being selfless leads to hope and harmony, caring and connection; it builds relationships and deepens love.
Yes, we each have needs and goals that need attention. But one of life's great ironies is nevertheless one of its great truths: the best way to improve our own lives is to improve the life of someone else. When we think of others, help others, reach out in thoughtfulness and kindness to others, we do improve our lives — and everyone else's — because we build a better world. Truly, we find our best and truest selves, and the best possible world, when we strive to be unselfish.