One of my favorite authors is John Feinstein. He is a great writer who writes sports books. He has written about baseball, college basketball, and loves to write about golf. He once wrote a book about the four majors in professional golf. He has the unique writing ability to describe people in such a way, that I feel like I’ve met them and know them personally after I read his prose. In one of his books, One on One, he tells a great story about Bobby Knight, the former Indiana basketball coach. Knight was always known as a great basketball coach, but not always as a likeable person. Here is how Feinstein told the story:
Knight told his team: “You know boys; I tell you all the time that you can’t be good basketball players if you’re selfish people. You don’t really understand what I’m saying when I say that, do you? I’m not talking about helping on defense or passing the ball, it’s more than that. I’m talking about Winston seeing Stew lose his man and not thinking for an instant, “Oh that is Stew’s guy”, but scrambling over to pick the guy up. You boys never do that. You only worry about yourselves.”
Knight paused, standing in front of the screen in the pitch dark locker room. He continued, “Let me ask you boys a question. On Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Rink (team doctor Larry) and his wife had you all over for Thanksgiving Dinner. Mrs. Rink shopped for you, cooked, and cleaned up after you left. All so you could have a nice Thanksgiving. Any of you in here who called her, wrote her, or sent her flowers to say thank you – raise your hand.”
Not a hand went up. “Exactly what I thought,” Knight said. “This is what I’m talking about. As long as you are selfish people, you will never be good basketball players.” Knight turned and walked out… coincidence or not, Indiana won its next seven games.”
Selfishness isn’t just a problem for basketball players, but all of us struggle with it. And as long as we are selfish people we will never be as good as we can be. Being unselfish might not make us better basketball players but it will definitely make us better people. The antidote for selfishness is to cultivate a heart of thankfulness. As we appreciate the people around us and grow in appreciation for how they contribute to our lives, then we gradually get the focus off of ourselves and on others for their contributions in our lives. Then as we grow in that gratitude we begin to see how we can contribute to others around us.
One of the best things we do as a nation is to pause at the end of November and take a day to be thankful. To slow down our busy self-centered lives long enough to think and reflect on what we are most thankful for. As we do that it is the best antidote for a selfish, self-seeking attitude.
Who are you most thankful for? Who in your life has shown a selfless giving spirit to you that has changed you and made you a better person? Have you told them? How should you do it? There are many ways to show your thankfulness. A card of thanks, a small gift, maybe a creative surprise are all ways of showing appreciation. Or you could just tell the person face to face why you are thankful for them. Nothing nurtures the soul more than a heartfelt expression of thanks. The only way you can go wrong is by not expressing your thankfulness in any way.
Do something to express your thankfulness and renew your commitment to pass that on to others. Being unselfish probably won’t make you a better basketball player, but it will change you and the people around you. Would you give it a try?