… and so is everyone around you.
A success coach whose work I’ve been following had a disturbing experience just recently. A lapse of judgment. He reported it himself, part of forgiving himself and clearing his mind. I won’t identify him. Some of you reading this would recognize the name.
Here’s what he said happened:
He’d presented at a meeting and was about to board his flight home. Directly ahead of him in line was an elderly man in a wheelchair.
For whatever reason the man had gotten there too late to receive special assistance at the gate. So he had little choice except to board with everyone else.
The success coach described how he tried to get past his wheelchair on the walkway but couldn’t do it. That meant he was in line directly behind this man getting on the plane. The line faced a brief delay while flight attendants sought a chair small enough to go down the aisle inside the plane.
They found one, but it took two people to assist the man getting into it. Then his regular wheelchair had to be secured.
This all meant a delay of between two and three minutes.
The success coach must have had a look of impatient annoyance on his face.
For as he followed the disabled man onto the plane, the man looked up at him as he was being wheeled backwards down the aisle and said quietly, “I’m sorry.”
The coach went on to describe how he suddenly felt ten inches tall. He wanted to crawl under the carpet and just disappear for a while.
He spent the flight reflecting on what had happened, and what it meant.
The disabled man had a greater sense of what he, the success coach, had been feeling than the coach had about what the man, with his disability, was going through, and on a daily basis.
The story, when I encountered it last week, got me thinking.
We just saw two perspectives on things, that of a man who allowed himself to get annoyed at a delay of no more than three minutes.
Versus that of an elderly man with a condition he lives with every day of his life.
Every one of us — every human being on the planet — sees the world from inside such a perspective. That perspective is uniquely their own.
The rich and the poor and everywhere in between. The abled and the disabled. White, black, Hispanic, Native American, etc. Gay, straight, etc.
We all see the world from within a perspective uniquely our own.
Our movements through life are like a 3D, 180-degree movie, extending outward from our heads, with ourselves as protagonist, or main character.
This 3D movie is our experience, filled with thoughts and emotions, memories from yesterday or going back to our childhoods, value judgments, and hopes for our futures.
An ongoing film we narrate with the self-talk always happening in our heads.
I love the way leading Australian philosopher David Chalmers describes this here. Check out just the first two minutes.
Our movies’ plots come and go, but gain coherence from our goals and the challenges we surmount to reach them. Different characters appear. Some are regulars: parents, spouse or significant other, other relatives. Others less so: coworkers or associates or those we do business with (superiors, employees, clients, customers, and so on). Listeners in your audience, if you’re speaking.
The majority of people we see are extras, as it were. They have names, but we won’t ever know them. We may see them just once, perhaps on a street or on the subway. We can’t see the movie that’s playing in their heads, though there is one. We won’t see its storyline or characters or challenges. We won’t know their hopes and dreams. But they have them. Even if they’re small. Of this we can be sure if we take a moment and think about it.
If we become enlightened about such things, that is.
All it takes is realizing that all of us have this 3D movie playing all the time, every waking moment. Consciousness, or conscious awareness.
Each of us is the center of his or her world.
And in that world, we’re the most important person there is.
There’s a sort of self-deception in this, of course. Because none of us is really the center of the universe.
But it looks like we are, and most of us never stop to think about it.
Our core value — unless we’ve fallen into suicidal depression — is ourselves: our survival and safety, our sense of well-being, our comfort, our ability to solve our problems or get help with them, and so on: our goals, our hopes, our dreams.
The success coach has his, as his movie plays out one way. And so does the disabled man, whose movie is playing out in a very different way, one doubtless hard to imagine unless you’re living it from the inside.
Why don’t we see this, or see it more often?
Because of that self-deception I mentioned. Most of the time we’re caught up in our lives and problems and nuisance delays. Not reflecting on our inner movie as just one of billions, we act as if we’re the center of the universe. Or at least it shows on our faces.
We all do this. We lapse easily. Even the wealthy success coach who’s looked up to by hundreds of thousands of people suffers crucial lapses.
Because we can’t see others’ movies. We can only be conscious in a broader sense of perspectives we’ll never see and try to gain enlightenment about them. That in them, we all have infinite value.
I may not see you as a person of infinite value to you.
But you are.
As is everyone else around you. All of you reading this. And around me. Around all others.
Just to be clear: self-interest is our human default setting. Like it or not.
That’s why marketing efforts that get inside prospective buyers’ hearts and emotions, appealing to their hungers, dreams, hopes, fears, pain points, etc., are spectacularly successful.
Other-interest is largely limited to family — spouse or other significant other, children, elderly parents (one hopes), other relatives. A handful of close friends perhaps. Maybe a neighbor or coworker or two, if we know our neighbors anymore, or can be troubled to get to know our coworkers as people?
All are persons of infinite value — to themselves.
Here’s the challenge. Make the enlightened leap, and make them of value to you.
Do it for everyone around you. Whether it calls for action on your part or not (and usually it won’t).
Enlightenment says their private 3D movie is always playing. This is “uncommon” sense.
The needs, wants, hopes, desires, and dreams — or fears — playing out in those movies define their values. They come together in this sense of each person having infinite value.
Worldviews such as Christianity ground the ethic we’re looking at here by telling us we’ve been created in God’s image: finite reflections of His infinite nature.
We fell into sin. Hence our lack of enlightenment.
Our unenlightened self-interest, which makes us act as if we’re the center of the universe.
How do we become more enlightened? More aware — especially given what others might be — are — going through?
By choosing to notice. By altering our focus. By choosing to care when circumstances call for it. By taking a sincere interest in another when they will allow it.
By finding out how we can serve them.
Imagine what a place this could be, what a planet we could have, if more of us became enlightened in this way, and then became influencers!
It starts small.
Helping an older man or woman struggling to get heavy luggage up a flight of stairs when the elevator’s out of order.
Might not be small to them!
Or not getting uptight about it when you’re delayed in a line for a few minutes because the person in front of you has special needs.
Perhaps I can help by just giving that “bum” on the sidewalk a little spare change I won’t miss but which might help him buy a warm meal.
Yeah, he might use the money to buy booze instead.
Also last week, I read the best rebuttal I’ve ever seen to that line. I screwed up by not writing down where I saw it! Couldn’t find it again! Ugh!
Anyway, yeah, the “bum” might buy booze. That’s his choice, and reflects on his character.
My casual, split-second refusal to help someone whose 3D movie might be a storyline of pain and suffering speaks volumes about mine.
For suppose he’s a Veteran who can’t work. Maybe he saw his best friend shot to death or blown to bits in front of his eyes! Or spent months hunkering down in dirt in 100-degree heat with random gunfire raging all around him at all hours of the day and night! Now he has PTSD!
Maybe not, but the point is, we can’t know unless we stop and ask him. And he probably won’t want to talk about it!
The VA is overloaded with such cases. Veterans commit suicide every day! That stops their inner nightmare!
Most of us aren’t in such predicaments, of course. But our inner 3D movies are playing. Everyone is his or her central character in such a movie. In it are their problems and triumphs, their hopes and dreams for their lives or the lives of loved ones.
Genuine enlightenment tells us this when we can’t detect it with our senses. Infinite value.
You are a person of infinite value. So are those around you. So are we all.
I can choose to act accordingly. Can we all?