Not to say I’m judging, I am among the worst offenders. It all makes sense given the amount of time we spend with ourselves, but I worry sometimes we get hung up on the irrelevant. I suppose relationships are interesting, but only in the way dreams are interesting. You may have had the most amazing, intense, suspenseful, cinematic, beautiful dream of all time, but chances are you can’t relate the story to me the way it happened. Dream logic gets in the way of it being a compelling story. In the same vein, you may have the most amazing, confusing, beautiful, complex, loving relationship of all time, but chances are it’ll sound like a bad soap opera storyline or young adult book when you impart on me your tale. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting aspects, but we seem to get obsessed. Almost every thought is filtered through some device that turns it into a personal drama. Not necessarily a negative drama, but somehow concerning some relationship or another. It gets boring after a while. It’d be like going through your life only reading a single genre of book or music. I love a good Zeppelin song but you have to give me some garage punk every so often. But whereas limiting ourselves to one type of music is a fault of our own making, being obsessed with ourselves isn’t. Everything in our lives is the most important thing to us because it’s happening to us.
“If he was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep tonight; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.”
– Adam Smith
It’s difficult to really hammer that way of thinking into our heads to make it second nature, and maybe some people don’t want to, but it’s hard to reason out of. (If you care at all about reasoning, and many people don’t. But if that’s the case, you aren’t involved in this conversation and your opinions are irrelevant regarding most things in life.) What’s clear is that those scales aren’t balanced. A social rejection will ruin my day, and maybe my week, but thousands dying might get a retweet. Yes, it would be impossible to even the scale but adjusting it wouldn’t be too bad.
I think the cliches (or what some people call wisdom) like, “It could be worse.” or “Be thankful for what you have because others aren’t so lucky.” have it a bit backwards. They tend to focus on us, better off, people. Sure, be thankful for what you have, but how about we turn the cliches to the other people involved. Instead of wasting that empathy on ourselves we might consider people who truly need it. In our own lives, we think about our problems and we try to fix them, sometimes making them worse in the process, but we’re trying. I won’t deny that’s necessary for a good life, there needs to be local fun and happiness, but hopefully some of that attention can be spared. Some can be turned to the hundred millions in various states of ruin. With that attention shifted we can try harder to fix things a little. (I refer back to my post about being ethical. It’s not always fun to think about child labor or animal abuse, but making small changes to what we consume, and how, can really improve things. For instance, there are tons of clothing companies (and sites like teespring) that donate money when you buy clothes. Or even just using smile.amazon.com for things you were going to buy anyway.)