Sunday, November 25, 2012



I’d worry a lot less about what other people think of me if I realized how little they do.”

I first heard that quote about 25 years ago. It’s been attributed to many authors, thinkers, even politicians around the great city of Chicago, but its origin is lost in the fog of the past, which is probably especially apropos to the quote. This thought has been immensely comforting to many, including yours truly…or at least it would be if it were as easy to internalize as it is to intellectualize.

We think about ourselves a lot. I realize that the closer we get to God, the less we think of ourselves, but I also realize that few of us are as close to God as we’d like to be, or should be, and that all of us are not sufficiently close to God that we can stop trying to get closer. And, to the extent that we go through the process of losing our selfishness, which some have defined as the maturation process and/or the process of realizing our spiritual potential, even the best of us devote most of our concern to those closest to us, to our friends, spouses, families, etc., rather than to the great, largely faceless, mass of humanity. That’s just the way we are; we are, after all, human.

To a large extent, we realize this innate, and not necessarily entirely bad, selfishness in ourselves, but we don’t see it in others. We often think that people are out there thinking things like…

“Boy, I remember when (insert your name here) really did me wrong twenty years ago. S/he ruined my life. I hate him/her! But he always was an a—hole!”

“(Insert your name here) didn’t even see me or acknowledge me when I saw him at (church, the game, the store) yesterday; s/he acted as if I weren’t there. I’m crushed!”

“Remember when (insert your name here) dropped that pass in the end zone and we lost the state title? What a schmo!”

“How ‘bout that time (insert your name here) got really (drunk, tired, upset, out of sorts, full of himself, or all of the above) and made an enormous ass out of himself? What an a—hole!”

Or maybe we imagine they think

“Remember that time (insert your name here) really did something nice for my (mom, dad, sister, daughter, son)? S/he didn’t have to do that. What a great person s/he is!”

“You know, that (insert your name here) is really (smart, hardworking, helpful, kind, willing to help). What a great person s/he is!”

“Wow! Isn’t (insert your name here) great looking!”

But guess what? They don’t think those things. They simply don’t care. They have more to do than sit around and think about us, what we are doing, what we have done, or how we have wronged or benefited them. They have their own lives, friends, families, etc., about which to concern themselves. They rarely think of us, who we are, what we’ve done, how our lives are going, or how we have had an impact on their lives, mostly because we haven’t, in most cases, had nearly as much impact on their lives as we think we did. We simply are not that important, or at least our importance wanes very quickly with the passage of time. And people just don’t care, or care all that much. This is by no means an indictment of people; it is simply a recognition that people are (at the expense of using what has become an incredibly trite expression) not wired to think much of what other people do or have done, or at least not nearly as much as we imagine. As I said before, this innate concern with self is not necessarily a bad thing; it is a survival device in more than the obvious ways.

Sometimes I think that the best thing for a lot of us would be to run into somebody from our distant pasts only to discover that they don’t even remember us. If we thought we had done them wrong, such a realization would be an enormous relief. If we thought we had done them right, such a realization would be a much needed dose of humility.

Is this a call to care little about how we treat people? Of course not. It is, rather, a call to do right by people NOW, when we can do something about it and for them, rather than dwelling on the good, but mostly the wrong, we have done people in the past. We can’t do anything about that…and the damage we have wrought, or the benefit we have conferred, on people is not nearly as large as we suppose.

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