We’re all buying into this story, even though it doesn’t match up to our personal experience.
Do you know that quote, “The only normal people in life are the people you haven’t met yet.”
I think it was Mae West or something.
I love it. First, I think it’s true. We’re all pretty crazy. We’re all amazingly unique. If someone looks ‘normal’, then you’re probably only seeing the surface.
Once you get to know someone, you realise how unique and interesting they are.
But it also points to another tendency people have – to make assumptions about people based on practically nothing.
We can take a look at someone’s clothes, and think we have a pretty solid grasp of their inner workings – their beliefs, their motivations, their prejudices and their tendernesses.
“I mean, obviously. Look at those shoes.”
And mostly that’s ok. You make a snap call about who to sit next to on the train. Does it matter if you’ve misjudged the character of the man with face tattoos? Not really. Not in that instance.
But where I think it can get problematic is when we aggregate it up.
For example, most people think that society is pretty selfish. Instances of random compassion and kindness are rarer than instances of stolen car parks and closing the elevator door on you when you were obviously trying to get on.
And so we live lives that tend to be defensive. We don’t open ourselves up to strangers. We don’t trust people without reason. We keep our private lives guarded and well… private.
But what are we really basing that on?
Is selfishness really the norm? Is society, on average, selfish and self-serving?
I can understand that it might appear that way from 30,000 ft, especially if you’re filtering your perception of the world through the main-stream media.
But take your own circle of friends and family. How much selfishness is there?
And even those problematic characters that every family has… Isn’t Aunt Judy’s selfishness just a confused sense of entitlement that came with being a little bit spoiled as a kid?
It’s annoying, sure, but do you really blame her?
“The only selfish people are the people you haven’t met yet.”
And even if you did blame her, isn’t she the exception, rather than the rule?
Where’s the mid-point of your circle? Isn’t it more generous than selfish?
Now you might be thinking, “Well, I have quality friends. I only choose to hang out with awesome and generous people. Other people’s circle of friends would be more selfish on average, and so when you aggregate it up, you get a selfish society.”
But again, what are you basing that on? Not my circle of friends, I hope.
And if it’s not your circle, and it’s not my circle, then whose circle is it?
The point I’m trying to make is that there is a myth – a myth that people are selfish and greedy, and society on a whole is ruthless and dangerous.
And we perpetuate this myth, over and over, without ever checking it against our own personal experiences.
And we doom ourselves to disconnection, alienation and anxious living.
Why do we do that?
And to answer that we might have to answer another question.
Whose interests does the myth actually serve?