I had to drive into Burleson and take care of a bill at the local hospital. On my way, I stopped at a gas station to fill up my pickup. I’m standing there putting gas into my truck when a large bird–a grackle (if you live here in the South you know what those are)–landed on the edge of my newly washed pickup and sat there and looked at me. It was within my reach.
In a moment of Zen, I stood there and just tried to commune with it. Just me and the Universe. And then the Universe lifted its tail, took a big dump on my clean pickup, and flew away.
So much for Zen moments.
I went through a period as a kid when I had a hard time seeing the world through anyone else’s eyes other than my own. It got to the point where I pulled a friend aside and told him: “Sometimes I think that the world only exists as far as I can see. When I leave a room, it deconstructs. Before I enter a room, it is built. All that exists is what is around me, and everyone is just robots.” My friend looked at me seriously and said, “Glen, you’ve caught us. That’s exactly what’s happening.”
Learning to see the world through other people’s eyes, learning to develop empathy, is a part of our emotional and psychological maturity. It’s not something we’re born with. In fact, when my son had his traumatic brain injury, it was something he struggled with for years afterward: the ability to see the world from the perspective of other people. It’s not ingrained in us, and in some ways, that empathy is getting harder to find and develop in our society.
The world, believe it or not, is not about us. I grew up believing that everyone in the world wanted to be an American, everyone loved America and that if they weren’t like us, then they wanted to be like us. It wasn’t until I spent a year in Austria in 1972 and 1973 that I realized that the United States is only a very little part of the world, and most of the time they are perfectly content to be who they are.
This past weekend a fellow faculty member suggested that news events like what happened in Paris actually contribute to us feeling more and more emasculated and helpless than ever before. We see it in living color, yet we can’t do anything about it. It is way over there, so all we can do is post our regrets on Facebook. What does that do for France? What does that do for us?
So what’s the point of all this? I think what I’m trying to say is that we live in a society that encourages self-appeasement so much that we have forgotten how to care about people other than ourselves. Even when we give a gift, we stand back and are offended unless we get a sufficient ‘thank you’ in reply.
What’s that answer? Maybe it’s sufficient to say that we all just need to get over ourselves and realize that life is better lived if we focus on other people. But maybe that would be too easy.