It seems to me that the world trains us to be pretty selfish, individualized people. Thomas Merton writes about this as he describes the problem of pride,
“The self must be treated as if, not merely in feeling but in actual fact, the whole universe revolved around it…If I am the center of the universe, than everything belongs to me. I can claim, as my due, all the good things of the earth. I can rob and cheat and bully other people. I can help myself to anything I like, no one can resist me.”
Now, this is a rather harsh assessment of our demeanor. I personally do not like to think of my perspective on my self as thinking that I am the center of the universe. But, if i am honest, and if I look hard enough at the way I am living and interacting with others, especially others outside my inner circle of friends and family, than I really do see myself as the center of the universe.
I don’t think we realize just how self-centered we really are. We don’t seem to realize that our actions really do affect the lives of others in significant ways. If we do realize it, we don’t seem to care too much. There seems to be an epidemic in our world of only caring about things that directly effect me (By the way, I consider myself a carrier of the original strand of this virus!). We have this uncanny ability to block out guilt and concern for things that don’t happen to effect my little world.
For example, I am firm believer that I am in the top 1% of the worlds best drivers. In fact, I’d argue that if you could somehow create an impartial and culturally fair driving contest, I would finish in the top 3, right behind Dale Earnhart, Jr. and the taxi driver I had in NYC last year (I’ll tell you that guy was good, I’ve never seen driving like that before).
But, despite my amazing driving skills, I’m embarrassed to say that this is one of the spheres in my life where my self-centeredness comes out in very clear ways.
You see, when I am on the road, I am the one whom all the traffic revolves around. You cut me off. You didn’t turn fast enough for me to get through the green arrow. You missed your turn and now I am waiting longer than I had to.
Now, if I happen to miss my turn that’s fine. You can wait for me. Because, after all, I am the center of the road.
I’m not sure if you remember that commercial from TV for the 1990 Nissan Sentra where the driver dreams about having all the road revolve around him, but I figure the road should be like that for me.
You see, when I am driving, it doesn’t really matter to me if I cut you off and that inconveniences you and you are late for work and then you lose your job and then you can’t pay your rent and then your three children end up eating generic macaroni and cheese for three months while you scour the internets for a new job.
Really, I’m ashamed to admit it, but it doesn’t.
I think the reason this kind of thing doesn’t bother me is because it didn’t happen to me and I don’t feel the effects of the pain that it causes.
This goes far beyond the silly example of driving. Think about the last time you saw a tragic story on the news. You probably felt sorry for the person or community a little while. If it was a big tragedy, you thought about it for a little bit longer and maybe you even gave money to the movie stars during the telethon.
But most likely your life went back to normal after a few minutes of thinking about how stinky that situation was. But, whether we think about it this intentionally or not our thinking usually goes along the lines of, “I didn’t happen to me. What’s for breakfast?”