While listening to a recent With a Side of Knowledge podcast, I heard an interesting comparison between selfishness in our lives and the behavior of cancer cells in our bodies.

In the interview, Dan Hinshaw, a physician and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, talks the maturation process that cells go through. At the end of this process, there is a programmed death of the cell. At this point, the dead cell is broken down, and the remains are used to nourish nearby cells. This is a normal and common occurrence, happening tens of millions of times each day in the human body.

But cancerous cells don’t follow this process. Unlike normal cells, they do not respond to the signal to die. The don’t react to the call to give of themselves for the sake of the larger organism. Instead, they keep trying to live, trying to grow. But in doing so, they cause damage, both to the cells nearby, and ultimately to the entire organism.

In life, it can be tempting to try to hold on to what we have, and to grasp for even more. But in doing so, we can start to behave like these cancer cells Hinshaw describes. Instead of being self-less, we can become selfish. But at what cost?

Just like in the case of a cancer cell, selfishness may get us more in the short run. But when left unchecked, the long-term impact is one of pain, and ultimately death. No, selfishness may not cause us physical death. But what things in our lives get damaged—sometimes irreparably—when we refuse to give of ourselves for the sake of someone else; to gracefully let go, and seek the welfare of others?