The same day that the world was assaulted by the release of Kim Kardashian West’s book of selfies, Selfish, its polar opposite hit bookstore shelves. Thank the goddess.
While the reality television star’s photo book shares nothing but snapshot after snapshot of herself, Paul D. Parkinson‘s cheekily titled Unselfish: Love Thy Neighbor as Thy Selfie puts the focus on 99 people who put the needs of others ahead of their own.
The book is nothing short of overwhelmingly inspiring: In an age where stupid human tricks and such are the mainstay of social media attention, Parkinson has compiled gorgeous photos and heartfelt essays that spotlight the stories of generous, largely unsung souls whose exploits, sadly, tend not to go viral.
The first profile in Unselfish presents the story of Scott Neeson. Formerly president of 20th Century Fox International, Neeson gave up a lucrative gig, his $3.5 million dollar home, a Porsche, and a yacht after a visit to Cambodia put him face to face with fellow humans living in unthinkable poverty.
…[He] saw hundreds of families living in a garbage dump, scavenging for things to sell. Most had no shoes. Many were at risk of abuse and vulnerable to human trafficking. As he returned to [a] new high-paying job at Sony [Pictures], he knew his heart just wasn’t in it anymore.
Neeson now oversees the Cambodian Children’s Fund, which provides a nutritious food, the promise of a college education, and healing to kids in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. In its quest to help children and families out of poverty, CCF serves more than 17,000 people each year.
“I believe every individual has the power to bring about significant change, good or bad,” Neeson tells Parkinson. “Whether we choose to use that power — and for what purpose — defines our legacy.”
Many of the stories in Unselfish are smaller and quieter, but no less powerful.
There is the tale of Jaspen Boothe, a disabled single mom, US Army veteran, and cancer survivor in Virginia, who founded Final Salute, a transitional housing project for female veterans. The book introduces a police officer who truly pounds his beat to protect and serve: A motorist with a cellphone camera — thinking the cop was up to no good; this is the age of Ferguson, Baltimore, and McKinney, after all — caught East Ridge, Tn., Sgt. Scott Butcher in the act of giving food to a homeless woman and her dog. We also meet teenagers David and Jared Sagae, a pair of altruistic teenage brothers who founded Trial Size Donations, a nonprofit that collects and distribute personal hygiene items for people who are homeless.
And then there are stories, including that of Pakistani teenage Nobel Prize winner and education advocate Malala Yousafzai, who survived violence and just opened a school for Syrian refugee girls, that remind us that the world faces searing crises that require more of us to step up and take risks to help our brothers and sisters around the globe.
Some of the essays, moving yet concise, were penned by Parkinson himself. Others were written by people with a personal connection to the unselfish person at the center of the story. This adds a level of emotion that can pierce one’s heart much more deeply.
In the book’s introduction, Parkinson (who, like us, creates media to bring about a better world) says he published Unselfish to remind readers that “loving our neighbors as ourselves (or as our ‘selfies’) … requires only action.”
“Let us all live to make life less difficult for each other,” he implores. “I can’t think of anything over hich we have greater control, and I know nothing would make a greater difference in the world.”
Take one selfish act: Get yourself a copy of Unselfish, let it inspire you, and then get busy making someone else’s life better.