In the early 1970s a stellar marketing strategy led to a breakthrough for the 7Up company. Featuring actor Geoffrey Holder as a Caribbean planter, the "un-cola" quickly enjoyed a rise in popularity with its lemon lime taste pleaser.
While the marketing ad was successful, it actually used the 'back door' approach to win its population. Most words with the prefix "un" are negative terms. To be an un-cola means that it is not a cola at all. When we push that idea to its unintended extreme, the selling feature was not the great taste of 7Up, but the fact that it is NOT a cola.
It reminds me of so many political ads that focus their attention on the negative traits of the opponent. What they seem to be implying is, "The best reason to vote for me is that my opponent is not qualified to do the job." Instead of telling me what is wrong with the other person, why not explain the advantages of having you in office; campaign on your own merits rather than the seeming failures of your opponent?
Think about some other "un" words: unpopular, undecided, unfriendly, unaware, unclean, unhappy, unfit, unsafe -- these are all negative words with unflattering connotations. Looking back, the idea of an un-cola was genius, but it was also a huge marketing risk.
British novelist and Christian apologists C.S. Lewis wrote about the human virtue of unselfishness. "If you asked twenty good men today what they thought to be the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, 'unselfishness.' But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, 'love.' "
These two virtues are not synonymous, but they are closely connected. The difference is that one word has a negative tone, the other a positive one. As Lewis explains it, "Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point."
The Christian Church has entered the season of Lent. Its purpose is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Most Americans, whether or not they practice the Christian faith, are familiar with the idea of "giving something up for Lent."
This is an effective and sacred practice in the life of a believer when exercised in its proper understanding. However, when the focus, or the end goal, is the sacrifice made, then the gesture is a selfish one. It is true that the New Testament has much to say about self-denial, but never as an end in itself. The end goal of Lent is not personal merit or achievement, but a closer walk with Christ.
The difference between unselfishness and love, then, is that love seeks the good and fulfillment of the other person, whereas unselfishness focuses on personal sacrifice. That is not to infer that unselfish acts should not be applauded, for it truly is a commendable virtue. However, the virtue is diminished when the act is primarily for the sake of the giver. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit … look not to your own interests, but to the interest of others."
Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.