WIIFM ("What's In It For Me?"), whether texted, tweeted or verbalized in person, is an expression that's become increasingly popular.
Some say the question is only talking about discovering the real value in experiences for a person. Yet those who ask this question are often seen as selfish. They are viewed as self-centered and less likely to donate their time or resources to anything (including altruistic causes) unless they receive something tangible in return.
The narcissism epidemic
Being wrapped up in oneself is not new. The attitude's been around for 6,000 years, and we human beings have made a habit of it. It seems that being overly preoccupied with self (also known as narcissism) is a growing part of post modern culture.
Psychology professors Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell state: "With the collapse of the credit bubble and the deep recession, Americans now clearly see the downsides of overconfidence … A national poll in June 2009 found that 2 out of 3 college students agreed their generation was more narcissistic than their predecessors'—a remarkably honest admission of an unflattering portrait" (The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, 2009, p. ix).
We find that God foretold this "love of self" as one of the outcomes of a world gone wild—a world of peril and conflict where man's selfishness will lead to his global demise.
God inspired the apostle Paul to write to the young evangelist Timothy: "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud … unloving … haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4). Our Creator knew, in advance, that narcissism and self-absorption would thrive in epidemic proportions at the time of the end.
Give versus get
As we see our culture virtually sprinting down the path of self-adoration, we can see that many in our world today have a problem! What about you? Fundamentally, people are either "givers" or "getters."
As research shows, most of us fall on the side of actually being a "getter"! We human beings are pretty good at self-preservation and are wired to think of ourselves first before sacrificing or saving the lives of others. In fact, when an exception happens to this rule, when people do set an example of service and personal sacrifice for the benefit of others, they are celebrated as heroes and sometimes even given awards and medals of honor for their actions.
Thousands of years of man's history have proven that this tendency toward self-centered thinking has resulted in the violent, divided and troubled conditions we find on earth today. Jesus Christ knew this would be the cause of man's demise, as witnessed in His teaching.
In John 15:13 Jesus explained, "The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them" (Good News Translation). Put differently, we should consider the needs of others before our own. Coming from the Son of God, this was a summation of His solution for world peace—a change in the way we think.
Paul echoed this same principle when He wrote: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:3-5).
Thinking outside the self-serving box in Zambia
So how are selfishness and narcissism overcome? Most authorities will say that the only cure for narcissism is changing the way people think about themselves by having them build relationships and learn empathy for others (Twenge and Campbell, p. 281). Christ explained that having this approach to life and to others will help a person to ultimately be a part of the solution to man's ills (Matthew 25:31-40).
Realizing this, United Youth Corps projects focus on serving the needs of members of the United Church of God in developing countries around the world. Rather than learning the value of giving and serving others through academic lectures, these projects provide experiential learning so that this valuable character trait of serving can be internalized. This can truly change the way a person thinks!
In August 2010 our latest United Youth Corps project took place outside of Lusaka, Zambia. Three volunteers traveled to this part of Africa to teach remedial English classes and basic computer skills to adults. These classes were all conducted in a rural setting where attendees and instructors were camping in tents, cooking from scratch over live coals and sharing meals and time together between classes. It truly was as experiential as one could hope for!
Church members from the towns of Mumbwa, Nalubanda and Kitwe gathered together to learn from these young adults from America. Here are some comments from these latest volunteers after spending two weeks serving, teaching and building friendships with those in Zambia:
"During camp, I never really considered the poverty of the people who I shared laughs with, who took notes from my English lesson or whose hands I helped wash. Status was thrown out the window starting from day one, and we were able to relate to one another on a personal level. I was surprised that I didn't feel pity for them; rather, I felt like I had as much or more to learn from them as they hoped to learn from me. It was a sense of equality I'd never felt before, a give and take from one another's wealth of experience and understanding."
—Liz Cannon, who taught remedial English
"This experience has helped me to appreciate not just the physical blessings that I have enjoyed living in the United States, but also the blessing of having been raised in the Church and having a strong network of brethren to rely on and relate to around the world and especially in my home congregation. And what a blessing it is to have my husband and family believe as I do."
—Lena VanAusdle, who taught remedial English
"From the traveling I'd done before now, I was already aware that we enjoy great physical blessings in America. However, I've never been to a place with as many problems as Africa—poverty, corrupt government and disease. I think it would be unbearably sad to observe the unmet needs people have if I believed this life was all there is. It has also made me realize that in America we have so much more than we really need to be happy. So many of the things that we consider 'necessities' are really luxuries, which in some cases may ironically detract from our happiness."
—Suzanne Lavaty, who taught basic computer skills
These young women made the conscious choice to sacrifice time and money to help others in need. They all realized the value of getting one's mind off personal interests. They experienced firsthand how serving the needs of others could change the way they thought. They learned that valuing other people leads to greater purpose and vision in their own lives.
In some ways, it isn't the question of "WIIFM?" that is the real problem. "What's In It For Me?" may have started with a selfish motive, but the real issue is why we ask the question and what we mean by it. If we learn to reverse the human tendency to think of the self first and ask instead, "What value is there for you and me in such a new, selfless way of thinking?"—then it becomes a good question.
Our United Youth Corps volunteers say that they benefited greatly from their experience. Over the years through various projects, many have said they've learned to appreciate more (both people and blessings) and complain less.
Others have realized that sacrifice and service (a selfless approach) is actually a key component to peace between peoples and nations. Still others have mentioned the personal fulfillment of knowing that they were able to better the life of another through their acts of help and service.
The best benefit
While getting involved in serving the needs of others is an important part of our lives as Christians today, the bigger and more lasting benefit lies yet ahead. Such service is actually part of the ultimate humanitarian cause, which will eventually serve all humanity.
The Bible teaches that God is working with and training people now for service to others when Christ returns to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. Through His Church, He is preparing people who will not focus on themselves, but will display the kind of humble, serving leadership that Christ taught and exemplified in His life.
As we learn the spiritual lesson of serving others today, we prepare to help build a new, better world tomorrow. VT