Lately I have been reading some things in the news about a disturbing increase in narcissism among young people, those of high school and college age in particular. This phenomenon is being linked to a variety of things, such as the proliferation of social networking websites, the drastic increase in instant communication technologies, and too much emphasis on self-esteem building by today’s parents. I tend to agree that an excess of narcissism is probably a bad thing. But it got me to thinking about the opposite phenomenon, as well; that is, the common feeling that one is simply a tiny, inconsequential speck in a vast and uncaring universe. My reaction to that is, simply: bullshit. Are we not all the centers of our very own universes? Is there something inherently bad about caring about our own lives and experiences? Is it wrong to be unhappy about the things we don’t like, just because someone, somewhere else, might have it worse? I am reminded of the classic parental guilt trap used to get children to clean their plates: “Don’t you know there are starving children in (insert generation-appropriate geographic region here)?” For me, it was Africa. My response? “Whether or not I eat my liver-frosted flakes, the starving kids in Africa aren’t going to get them.” (My dad used to tease Hilary and me with imaginary unsavory meal threats, liver-frosted flakes being a favorite. We were also terrorized with the horrifying possibility of liver-filled donuts). In any case, there is nothing wrong with keeping a little perspective; after all, unless you are extraordinarily unlucky, there is always someone, somewhere, who has it worse than you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be pissed about whatever bad experience you are having. If I have a broken toe, don’t tell me, “You know, it could be worse. You could have a gangrenous toe that has to be amputated, but the infection isn’t contained, and it spreads up your leg to your face and renders you hideously disfigured. That’ll learn you! Now quitcher complaining, ya big baby!”
All that being said, there are definitely some people who are the center of the universe in a very unhealthy way. The thing about a universe is, it’s full of other stuff. You may be the big star, but you are surrounded by planets, moons, constellations of other stars, random space junk, even vast alien worlds (cue Ren & Stimpy “Space Madness” quotes)… and what you do may have an affect on those other parts of your particular universe. If you don’t take care of the whole universe, not just the center, there could be a huge destructive supernova, or a life-sucking black hole, and nobody wants that.
So. I address this to the universal catastrophes out there: you are not that important. This is for the black hole in the BMW yesterday who zoomed up Poway Road in the break-down lane to get around a truck, just so you could make it to the light at the top a whole thirty seconds faster. This is for the supernova at Albertson’s, who left your dog in the car in 104 degree heat, just because it was too inconvenient to take him home before you stopped for groceries. This is for the asteroid collision who has to take that important call or send that life-altering text message while out to dinner with your children. This is even for the minor meteor-showers of people who leave their carts in the parking space because they don’t want to walk 40 extra feet to the cart rack, or the co-workers who don’t rinse their coffee cup until it grows a vast alien world that colonizes the break-room sink. You may be the center of your own little universe, but don’t forget that we all live in a multiverse, and what you do in yours is NOT more important than what I do in mine, especially if destruction in yours might cause collateral damage in mine. Ask yourself, honestly: is it worth it? Is it worth it, BMW black hole, to risk your life and the life of others to save a few seconds? Is it worth it, Albertson’s supernova, to injure or kill your dog for a few quick groceries? Is it worth it, cell phone asteroid collision, to alienate your friends and family for instant communication we can all live without? And for the minor asteroid showers, is it worth it to be a self-centered ass-wipe?
Don’t get me wrong, folks. I know that I, too, have plenty of ass-wipe moments, and that sometimes my sense of my universe doesn’t allow for any acknowledgment of other worlds. We are all narcissists at heart. But I think we all need to start consciously asking ourselves to be aware of others and to have some much-needed perspective, to slow down, to take it easy, to turn off the TV and pick up a book, to stick to the speed limit, to write a letter or have a face-to-face conversation, to allow ourselves to find a happy medium between black hole self-centeredness and tiny speck meaninglessness.