In a world where survival is of the fittest, we are conditioned to be selfish from birth. We live in a society where competition and winning are the centers of our worth. Our system celebrates winning instead of cooperation. In such a world, selfishness is a necessity. But we are Christians, we don’t follow the world, we follow Christ. Saint Paul said, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). We are instructed to be holy like Him, which means to be set apart (unique, different). We are unlike anyone in the world in our purpose. We live intentional lives, so even when the world rewards selfishness we choose to be selfless because our purpose is to glorify Him through our holiness.
Nowadays, selfishness comes from wanting excessive amounts of attention. There is this phenomenon for the constant need for attention. We all want to be noticed and recognized. It’s why social media is reigning, it fulfills the need for attention through instant gratification that comes from views, comments, likes, screenshots, etc. Sadly, I see a lot of church people who are victims of this as well. Some write articles, share mezmur, or any other church-related posts because of the attention they get.
I realize attention is a biological component of surviving. To a certain point, we need to be reinforced by attention so that social approval works as a reinforcement. The alternative would be people who have autism who are sometimes not motivated by attention. In those cases, they don’t act according to societal norms. It is because attention serves as a motivating force that people are courteous. So balance is key. The way to recognize unhealthy attention is if it serves you instead of God.
The need for attention might not seem like a big problem but it leads to many deadly sins. We can easily comprehend how it creates jealousy. For example, the girl who gets fewer likes despises the one who gets more. We are so easy to disregard someone who steals our attention. We get in a vicious hate cycle driven by competition, selfishness, and need for attention. This unhealthy need for attention is also leading us to other sins such as lying, gossiping, etc. If attention is serving as a drug we will essentially do anything to get it, an extreme version of that might be stealing, cheating, and killing. The need for attention doesn't just end with social media it sips through our daily life. Wherever we are we want the attention on us. At some point, it doesn’t matter if it's good attention, as long as it is attention it suffices. I see people making unnecessary comments in church meetings just for the sake of talking by which they have attention on them.
So how does one stop being selfish?
The answer might be simpler than we thought. If we are trained to be selfish then the easy way to minimize the result is by being selfless. The Bible says, “Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24). Instead of trying to stop being selfish we just try to become selfless. In applied behavior analysis (ABA) this is called differential reinforcement, where you only reinforce the desired behavior and apply extinction to all other responses.
Thankfully serving God is rewarding. I have never had an experience of serving God that left me regretful. Here is what I propose, use differential reinforcement of other behaviors (DRO) to eliminate the need for unhealthy attention. DRO is an ABA technique that reinforces the absence of undesired behavior. For every 15 minutes, you go without participating in the problem behavior (posting unnecessary pictures, saying inappropriate stuff, basically doing anything for attention) reward yourself. You could earn a token which you would be able to cash out in a week. As time goes you increase the 15 minutes to 20 and so on. The idea is eventually you will be able to go a day, a week, and more without needing external attention or validation.
One last tip, ignore attention maintained behaviors. You will be doing the person a big favor by putting extinction on their disruptive or inappropriate behavior/s. After all, “for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16).
May God give us a servant's heart!
Glory be forever to Him,