The Other I

March 15, 2011

The upside of down

Filed under: Psychology, Philosophy & Personal Nonsense — theotheri @ 4:58 pm

Some twenty years ago I was jolted by a rather terrifying insight into my absolute selfishness.  I seem to have the capacity to put myself first under almost any possible circumstance.  It’s not that I don’t love people.  I do.  But standing in front of the loaded gun, my first instinct is to let someone else take the bullet.

Putting someone else’s interests ahead of my own always seems to take a positive, conscious decision.  Putting myself first is spontaneous.

For a long time I was horrified by this recognition.

But then I thought about the alternative.  The alternative is not being able to take care of myself.  The alternative is loving other people with the secret hope that they, in turn, will take care of me so I would not have to take responsibility for myself.

And that was when I realized that we need to be able to be responsible for ourselves before we are capable of loving other people for their own sakes rather than for our own.

And I stopped being quite so horrified by my own self-preservation impulses.  We need them if we are not going to be childishly dependent on others for the rest of our lives.

In a similar vein, I’ve often tended to castigate myself for caring more about what is going on immediately around me than what is happening in far off places.  Yesterday, for example, I think my bone density scan used up as much of my conscious attention as the catastrophe unfolding in all of Japan.

But that’s the way human consciousness has evolved.  That’s the way it is supposed to be.  The alternative illustrates why.  People who are more concerned about the suffering in China than they are about the suffering of their own children with whom they are actually living are getting something terribly out of proportion.  We simply are not meant to be responsible for every misfortune taking place on the globe.

All of which are examples of what I call my single act of faith:  that existence is good.  The universe is evolving as it must, and therefore as it should.  My selfish concern for my own survival isn’t bad.  It’s a very good starting point.

It just means the universe isn’t finished yet.

And it does mean that I can go on tending my own small garden without feeling guilty.  I’m not supposed to run the world.

Important as I may think I am.

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