FamilyLife Today®

Are You Unselfish?

with Jill Rigby | August 1, 2013
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Are you raising your children to be mirrors or windows? Manners of the Heart founder and author Jill Rigby explains how emphasizing self-esteem over service encourages a child's natural selfishness. Listen in as Jill tells parents how to raise children who think of others instead.

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  • Are you raising your children to be mirrors or windows? Manners of the Heart founder and author Jill Rigby explains how emphasizing self-esteem over service encourages a child's natural selfishness. Listen in as Jill tells parents how to raise children who think of others instead.

Jill Rigby explains how emphasizing self-esteem over service encourages a child’s natural selfishness.

Are You Unselfish?

With Jill Rigby
August 01, 2013
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Bob: Do your children ever have a selfish or demanding attitude?  Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, "Where did they learn that?" Here's Jill Rigby.

Jill: It's real easy for us to look at our kids and say, "Look, enough is enough! The answer is: ‘No!’ ‘No, I'm not going to buy this.’  ‘No, we're not going to do that.’" But yet, when was the last time we said to ourselves that, “Enough is enough”? Ouch!

It has to begin by cleaning out our own hearts. The real practical suggestion for that is we just need to do the 139. Most of us know that—Psalm 139:23-24: "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is an offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to talk today about raising unselfish children. One of the things we're going to have to look at is what we're modeling. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.

Dennis: Bob, Bob, Bob, I've got to ask you a question.

Bob: Okay, alright.

Dennis: Are you raising your children to a window or to a mirror?

Bob: Raising them to a window—they have both. There's a mirror in their bedroom, and there's a—there are a couple of windows in their bedroom and, in fact—

Dennis: Well, everybody knows teenage boys use mirrors a whole lot more than they did when they were 'tweens, and toddlers, and stuff.

Bob: So I'm thinking about it—I'm thinking there are actually some blinds that need to be replaced in a few of those windows so—

Dennis: You're wondering if Mary Ann called me or something.

Bob: Yes. What is the agenda here?

Dennis: Well, we're going to ask what that means—of our author on today's broadcast, Jill Rigby. Jill, welcome to FamilyLife Today. Now, explain to Bob, before I introduce you to our listeners, what does it mean if you're raising your children to a window or to a mirror?

Jill: Well, that's a critical question that parents must answer today. What that means is—that if we're raising our children to a mirror—then, we're raising them to have self-esteem, which means we're raising them, from the time they're born—we place a crown on their heads, and we place a mirror in their hands so that they see themselves, believing that, “It's all about me.” You know, the problem with the mirror is they can't see through the mirror to see others—so, they only see themselves.

Contrast that by—if we're raising children at the window—where they see their own reflection in the glass, but it's against the backdrop of the world. So, they see themselves; but they see beyond themselves into the world. It's the idea of raising children to find their place in the world, to serve the world, rather than in the mirror, which they think the world should serve them.

Dennis: I really like that illustration you used in your book, Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World, because I think children almost naturally want us to get the mirror out. I mean, they want it to be all about themselves. If a parent is not careful, that's exactly what will happen.

Jill Rigby is founder of Manners of the Heart®, which is a ministry really focused on the community—all aspects of the community—to bring back manners and respect back into the community. Is that correct?

Jill: Yes; yes, it is. We have elementary programs, middle school, high school programs. We do parenting seminars, and we also offer the business manners, which is training for marketplace and corporate training, as well.

Bob: And you believe that manners—basic etiquette—is really a reflection of what's in people's hearts; right?

Jill: Well, and I'll even break it out a little more: Etiquette is really the rules; manners are the attitude behind the rules. Manners is the why you do what you do. My definition for manners is that it's an attitude of the heart that's self-giving, not self-serving. So, it's more about why you do what you do than what you do.

Bob: So, when you're training people in manners, you're really trying to do some attitude adjustment.

Jill: Oh, absolutely. We call it "heart work”—like when I'm talking with parents, and in schools, I'll say, you know: "You all need to help your kids do their homework. The teachers will assign the homework, and we're going to give you heart work to do."

Dennis: And it's really what your book is about. You're calling parents to raise children to be unselfish. Now, you talk about a challenge! I mean—[Laughter]

Bob: Well, we all started—

Dennis: I think it might be easier to build a nuclear weapon than raising a child to be unselfish. [Laughter]

Bob: The reality is we all start off selfish—every one of us. So, the raw material for self-absorption is indigenous to every child. Every parent has got to recognize this is a primary aspect of what you're doing, as you raise your children.

Jill: That's right. We're born with innate selfishness. I mean, that's how we come into the world. We come into the world with hearts filled up with bad stuff. I mean, that's why we need to have our hearts cleaned out—

Bob: Right.

Jill: —to get us straight. Yet, what are we doing in today's culture? We have a child that's already selfish, and what are we doing?  We're making him more selfish by making them focus in on themselves even more.

I consider parenting a sacred honor and a holy duty. It's such an honor to be blessed with a child. Consequently, we have a duty, to God, to help raise that child to go beyond themselves so they can see God and they could answer God's call. They can't do that if they're being raised in the mirror.

Dennis: Okay, Jill, this is not a call-in talk show; all right? But I can hear the cell phone ringing right now. Flip it open; and there is a mom, who says: "I'm with you. I want to raise unselfish children; but where do I start, as a mom?" Or it could be a dad. Let's say a dad calls in. What would you encourage them to do?

Jill: This is a stinger. It's a forewarning. Here is a warning label on what I'm getting ready to say, “It has to start in your own heart.” You know, it's real easy for us to look at our kids and say: "Look, enough is enough!” you know? “The answer is, ‘No!’: ‘No, I'm not going to buy this.’ ‘No, we're not going to do that.’" But yet, when was the last time we said to ourselves that, “Enough is enough”? Ouch!

It has to begin by cleaning out our own hearts. The real practical suggestion for that is we just need to do the 139. I've taught a ladies' Bible study for many, many years. One of the Scriptures—that is one of my daily prayers—is Psalm 139:23-24. Most of us know that: "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is an offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." We used that in my ladies' Bible study for years. If a request turned into a complaint—you know, a prayer request became a complaint, or someone was whining too much—we would say, "Honey, go home and do the 139. You know, that's your problem. That's what's wrong here."

I have found that the more we pray: "Search me, O God, test my heart—know my anxious thoughts. Find that offensive way in me,"—that's the best place to start. Think how that can transform marriages—when you're not saying: "O Lord, fix him / fix her.” “O Lord, he's so selfish.” “Lord, do something about that." No, you're just praying, "Lord, fix me."

Bob: Now, you hear that—and I can think of some people who, I think, need to do the 139 a little more often because they're a little too full of themselves—but you've also met people who do have this picture of themselves as unworthy. It's like they need somebody to pep them up a little bit—they need some kind of self-esteem. How do you respond to that?

Jill: That's a really good question, and I get that a lot. May I be bold?

Bob: Yes.

Jill: I will be bold here. The place I've come to—when I first started all this, I really felt like—well, we need self-esteem, of course—but we've just gone about it in the wrong way. That's the problem. That I've really come to the place—first, let me say I'm an upside-down, backwards thinker. Everybody who ever hears me speak has to know that to understand me.

Dennis: Upside-down, backwards thinker?

Jill: Yes.

Dennis: Okay, what does that mean?

Jill: What that means is—so often, what people see right-side up—to me, it's upside down. You have to take things and look at them backwards to understand what's wrong. For instance, self-esteem doesn't sound like a bad thing; but if you look at it backwards, it's esteeming self. We're to esteem God, and our worth comes from Him.

It's fascinating when I'm speaking before an audience. I'm bold—like in a school setting—and I'll just walk out and say, "You don't need self-esteem! And these kids don't need it, either!" I just get these—just like—oh! I’m getting the looks from Bob and Dennis, right now! [Laughter] Hey, it's deer in the headlights.

Dennis: Oh, I can picture what they're saying, at that point.

Jill: Can you imagine? Because, you know, in our school system—I mean, in my opinion, this has had a huge impact on ruining our public school systems—is this emphasis on self-esteem. But then, when I flip it, and I go, "Okay, come on and go backwards with me,"—and esteeming self has a completely different ring to it.

Dennis: Let's go back to parents for a moment.

Bob: Well, before we go back to parents, can I just ask the author of the book, Building Your Mate's Self-Esteem

Jill: Oh!

Bob: —to respond to what we've talked about here?

Dennis: I'd be glad to. Now, look who's in the headlights! She's in the headlights, now. No, Jill, I—

Jill: I knew that was coming! [Laughter]

Dennis: I agree with you because anybody who has read our book realizes that we've written about how our self-esteem—our worth, our value—ultimately, comes from God. Our spouse is, I think, the reflection of God's love to them, many times. That's why we're to build them up, edify them, strengthen them, encourage them, and have belief in them. But it's not a blind belief. It's not a belief that excludes God. It's one that realizes, if your spouse doesn't have a life that is calibrated according to who God is and what the Scriptures say, it's going to be an empty self-absorption, at that point.

Bob: There are ways for people to have self-confidence, humility, self-respect—these things you've talked about, without being self-absorbed. That's where the whole self-esteem movement has led us to—narcissism and self-absorption; right?

Jill: Absolutely. And, you know, if you really trace back the history of the word—the term, self-esteem—it was coined in the 1890’s by a psychiatrist—psychologist, actually. Then, it came in; and it sat in the psychiatry circles and psychology circles in the '40s and even into the '50s. Then, it was in the late '60s that it was really brought out of just the psychological circles into mainstream; and we were told, "This is the answer."

But if you really trace it—the one person, man—that you can go back to and say, "This is the man who told us that." Do you know who it was? It was Carl Rogers. He's the grandfather of humanism. So, that's another red flag, for me, when I started digging so deeply to get to the bottom of all this—when I kept thinking, "Something is off in the way we're going about it."

Dennis: Jill, I want to go back to parents again and talk about how we can begin to empty our own hearts of our self-centeredness because that is, ultimately, the solution here. You, actually, give the readers of your book a number of questions, where they can measure how self-centered they really are.

I don't want you to go over all 12 of the questions. In fact, what we'll do is—we'll put them on our website. Folks can go visit these questions and ask them of themselves. But just pick three or four of them; and then, make some comments, if you would, please.

Jill: Okay. I call that the Generosity Quotient Test. I'll warn you—these are some ouchy questions. Actually, the first one on the list is—

Dennis: I like it. I like this question.

Jill: “Do you tip the waitress or waiter with the same enthusiasm with which you ordered your meal?” Think of everything we're talking about—these questions—when you're testing your own heart—that your children are sitting right there with you.

Bob: Can I say something about that?

Jill: Yes.

Bob: And I don't want to just run a bunny trail here; but somewhere in the last couple of years, I realized, that at most meals, the difference between 15 and 20 percent—really, the difference between rounding up and rounding down—amounts to a dollar or two, at a meal out. I think the difference between blessing somebody or causing them to have a bad day is a couple of bucks.

I've just thought: "You know, if I'm going to err, I'm going to err on the side of generosity. It's a good thing for me to do that." It has transformed—I look forward to the end of the meal, where I think, "I can make somebody's day—put a smile, add another dollar to the tip, and just cause him to go, 'Well, that was nice of that guy….'" It's probably because I just want him to think I'm such a nice guy; don't you think?

Dennis: No, you know, you're right, though, Bob. It's all about the attitude, and that's what she's talking about here. One of the things that I've started doing; and I think I saw somebody else practice this was—as we ordered our meal, we would ask the waiter or waitress to share with us how we might pray for them—say: "In a moment, we're going to ask the Lord to bless the food. We'd like to pray for you.” One of the things that does, for me, though, Bob—is at the end of the meal, —

Bob: Now, you've got to tip; don't you?

Dennis: Now, you have to tip—to your point about being generous, at the end—because you can't pray for somebody, and then leave a track, and tip 5 percent.

Bob: And the whole reason for this diagnostic question—that you've got in your book—is to ask the question: "What's going on in my heart?  Am I other-focused or am I self-focused?"

Jill: Exactly. I mean, that's the whole purpose behind this little exercise. As a parent, it's because this is where it has to start. I often say, "I really believe that the little things on earth are really the big things in heaven." Look at the Scriptures—the numerous Scriptures, in God's Word, that talk about the heart. God is really much more concerned about the heart behind what we do than actually what we do.

And what do we do?  We work on all the behavioral stuff—you know, in kids, and in ourselves—and we've lost the focus that everything that is spoken and everything that we do started in the heart. I had a second-grader, one time—who just put it down for everybody that had been taking Manners of the Heart. He said: "Miss Jill, Miss Jill! I've got it! I've got it!" He pointed to his mouth; and he said, "What falls out of here came out of there."—he pointed to his heart. I mean, he got it! So, that's really what all this is about—you know, about your heart. Let me give you another—

Bob: Before you do—

Jill: Go ahead.

Bob: —I have to confess to one thing. I did tip somebody 10 percent the other day, and I was being generous; okay? But I just want to get that out on the table; okay?

Dennis: Your conscience was bothering you?

Bob: My conscience was pricking me. Ten percent was generous, considering how that had gone that particular day.

Dennis: The service that you received?  Okay.

Bob: Yes; now, you may continue.

Dennis: Back to the Generosity Quotient Test.

Jill: Yes; yes, we need to—Bob, you need to take this and see where you fall on it. [Laughter]

Dennis: By the way, folks can find this on our website—this Generosity Quotient Test. It's got all 12 questions on it, but what's the next one?

Jill: Okay, let's glance down to number 6: "Will you watch your spouse’s or your child's favorite television show, at the expense of your favorite?" Don't give me the TiVo thing. I know, I know, I know. I told someone, just the other day: "You know, think about this— we can put a TV in every bedroom now. You know how often we do that. And why do we do that?  So everyone can watch their own show when they want to watch it."

What happened to the family television? We're losing the opportunity that our children have to learn the principles of having a generous heart, of learning how to share, of learning how to be unselfish by feeding—see, what we do when we keep feeding that selfishness—by, “Everybody can have it their own way.”

Bob: And it doesn't work for Dad to say, "Well, I'm going to teach you to be unselfish. You're always going to watch the show I want to watch,” because Dad, at that point, is modeling his own selfishness. All they think is, "When I grow up, I'm going to be selfish, too;" right?

Jill: Oh, absolutely; absolutely. I know people probably get very tired of hearing that the best model is still by example, but the reason we keep saying it is because it's a truth that we can never get away from.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: Yes.

Jill: It tickles me—and my manners—all the stuff I talk about manners—isn't it amazing how a well-mannered parent usually raises a well-mannered child? And, you know, a mom—who tends to whine and a mom who tends to be that fussy mom—usually, has the three-year-old who is a real complainer. You know, you just really can't get away from it.

Dennis: I think I hear another cell phone coming through [Laughter]—from a call here from a mom. Continue on with your test.

Jill: Yes; okay. How about—alright, how about this one? “Do you go the extra mile for the adults in your children's lives; for instance, coaches, teachers, school bus drivers, et cetera?” You know, part of what I'm trying to help parents and, really, all of us get back to is—especially, as Christians—is that we leave behind that aroma of Christ. That's what a lot of this is.

You know, when the service is not good, and you really don't think it was such a great job done, and you wish things had been different, but what if you bless them, anyway? You know? Isn't that really what Jesus did? Yes, He spoke the truth in love and, of course, there are times when we must speak the truth in love—of course.

Bob: With this list, you're not trying to say: "Here is the checklist. If you can score a hundred on my 12 questions, you're going to raise unselfish children."  You're really asking folks to diagnose: “What is the orientation of their life and their heart?”

Jill: Oh, very well-said; yes.

Dennis: And if a parent recognizes they're selfish, obviously, they need to confess that selfishness and repent of it, and may need to apologize—in front of the child or to the child. I've done this with Barbara, many times, in front of our kids, because my selfishness was not pretty. It was not appropriate of me, as the husband and father of the family.

But where do they go after that?  After they've repented, what do they begin to do to begin to demonstrate a selfless attitude?

Jill: Well, you know, there is remorse, repentance, and forgiveness—I believe—are the steps in there. Once that you've confessed, and you've recognized that there has been selfishness, and you've asked forgiveness from the Father, and you've asked forgiveness from your family members—then, the word, "repent", does mean to turn around.

The word "repent" means to turn your back on—which means, it's not enough to say I'm sorry,” and then next week have to turn around and say, “I'm sorry,” again for doing the same thing, and the next week. It's turning away from it. It's beginning to consciously, with great intent, turn away from those selfish acts and do things differently—like, go back to the list and find those areas where you've been failing in. Then, make that conscious effort to do things in a different way.

Dennis: And, you know, when you find yourself doing things a different way—and you deny yourself, which is going to be at the core of selflessness—

Jill: Right.

Dennis: —you've got to come back to what is Bob's favorite verse—Philippians, Chapter 2, verse 3, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but, in humility, count others more significant than yourself." So, you don't merely look out for your own interests. You look out for the interests of others.

For me, the way that it helps me to begin to do this is—I begin to make a list of ways I can begin to look out for the interests of other people. For instance, my closest neighbor is Barbara. I began to write down, “What are the things that speak to her of my selflessness?” It's getting on her agenda—entering her world—doing things the way she likes to have them done, and to spend my time with her on her agenda.

Bob: You know, nobody is going to want to buy your book because we started off by saying, "You may have some issues you have to deal with if you want to raise unselfish children." I mean, it's kind of like, “Just tell me how to fix them; not how to fix me.” But I think the point you've made here today is excellent. You may look at your children and say: "Well, these kids do have selfishness. They are selfish.” We have said, "Yes, they're born that way; and you may be contributing rather than correcting." That's where we've got to start as we attempt to deal with this issue with our children. That's where you take readers, as they go through your book, Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World.

We've got copies of Jill’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If somebody thinks, "I need a shortcut here,” there are no shortcuts. You’re going to have to dig in and address this subject the way that Jill addresses it in her book. Again, it’s called Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World. Go to to find out more about the book; or if you’d like to order online, the website again: You can also call, toll-free, to request the book. Our toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.

What we’ve been talking about here really ties in with a conversation we had, not long ago, with Kay Wyma, who was frustrated by the fact that her kids tended to have an entitlement mentality. They tended to think that certain things were just going to happen for them because those things happen for their friends—like they were going to get a car when they turned 16, or Mom was going to do the laundry because other kids’ moms did the laundry.

She recognized this as a significant issue and decided to take a year for what she called cleaning house”. We had a conversation with her about that year and what she did with her kids to help cultivate a sense of responsibility around the home. This week, we would love to send you a copy of our conversation with Kay Wyma as a way of saying, “Thank you for your financial support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

Our program is listener-supported. The cost for producing and syndicating this program is taken care of by folks, like you, who, from time to time, will get in touch with us and make a donation to help us cover those costs. We appreciate our Legacy Partners, who provide monthly support for this program, and those of you who just get in touch with us, on occasion, and say: “Keep going. We believe in what you’re doing. Your program is making a difference.”

If you’d like to make a donation today, go to Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation, and we’ll send you the CD of our conversation with Kay Wyma. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone. When you do, ask for the CD called Cleaning House;and we’ll send that to you. Or if you’d like to mail a donation to us, our mailing address is: FamilyLife Today, Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas. The zip code is 72223—again, mail donations to: FamilyLife Today,Box 7111, Little Rock, Arkansas, 72223. Let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for your support of this ministry.

We hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about parents who come to the realization that their children have been calling the shots, running the show. We’re going to talk about what you do to begin to break that pattern in your child’s life. I hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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Episodes in this Series

Character Development Day 2
What Kind of Parent Are You?
with Jill Rigby August 2, 2013
Jill Rigby explains the differences between deflector parents, depriver parents, and developer parents.
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