Living in ‘the world of me’

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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This is something I’ve touched on before, but it just keeps nagging at me. Somewhere, somehow it became morally and socially acceptable for each of us to live comfortably in the centre of our own universe, with everything else out there revolving in lockstep around us.

We’ve been allowed to live inside a belief system that says it’s OK to consider everything through the lens of our own self-interest.

Elect a government based on what “it will do for me.” Make environmental choices based on what suits our own particular whims — dump your trash on a dirt road because the garbage is in your way and you don’t ever have to go down that road again and see the mess — and the list goes on.

Our own personal needs are paramount, and as a result, we can legitimately disregard even the basics of the conventions that make civilized society work.

I probably would be considered a bit of a freak to suggest that this kind of me-ologism shows up in everything from voting choices to driving habits — except, strangely, that’s exactly what I think.

People don’t bother with something as simple as a turn signal because the havoc caused by unsignalled turns primarily happens behind them after they leave the scene. People text or talk on cellphones while driving because their particular need to stay in a distant conversation is more important than the safety of the rest of us who share the road.

Simple things, yes, but both are an example of individuals putting their own interests ahead of society — in this case, the society of those who actually obey the rules of the road.

 

Self-awareness

Listening to social commentator Fran Lebowitz, a guest on CBC’s “Q” on Wednesday, brought the whole concept back to me again. 

Lebowitz was talking about the general failure of manners in Americans in particular (and others in general).

Her argument was that people are so insular that they fail to recognize that anyone else has any kind of societal need.

People walk along the sidewalk, three abreast and talking, because they have no awareness that there might be others who also need the sidewalk, and that they need to move faster than a meander. (The irony in her argument, however, was that she also contended that the closest thing to good manners would simply be to behave the way she does — in other words, the world would be a better place if everyone interpreted it on her terms. I’d argue that’s the problem, not the solution.)

Lebowitz put the growing world of bad manners down to a lack of self-awareness.

I don’t think a lack of self-

awareness is exactly the problem.

A lack of any awareness outside the world of me — now, that’s the problem.

Looking at the world through the filter of “what’s best for me personally” has a tremendous downside for that strange and ever-more-

foreign concept known as “society.”

Take something obvious: we’re a great big country with millions of citizens, but effectively only a handful actually live near the sea and fewer still make a livelihood from it. If everyone focuses strictly on themselves and their own needs, there’s no need to protect either the sea or the fish that live in it.

Focus only on your own needs, and things like labour standards, medicare and environmental stewardship only matter to the extent of, at the most, the reach of the end of your arm or the fence at the back of your property.

The elderly?

They only need help when you’re one of them, or perhaps when they marshal a majority of votes.

Cut everything back — unless it’s the pavement on your own street or the complement of teachers at your children’s school.

But remember — society, and living in groups, isn’t just for convenience. It lets us do things we can’t on our own — home surgery, for example.

So where did this society of one, this worship of self, come from?

Well, perhaps from rise of blunt consumerism and the concept that we deserve the most, and the newest, stuff; the need to be the first to have things, regardless of cost or value.

The guts of the commercial world are certainly where you see self-centredness at its worst, from huge corporate salaries and benefits, right down to the bottom rung on the commercial ladder.

As one sales clerk told me bluntly last week, “If you really want to see ‘the world of me,’ work in retail for a few months.”

I believe it. You can get a glimpse of it at pretty much any checkout, where the lords and ladies belittle the serfs behind the cash.

The world of me may work well for the time being, when you’re strong and fast and earning money.

It is a unique kind of world view, and an extremely destructive one.

But perhaps we don’t really have to care. Perhaps we’ll be long gone before those chickens come home to roost.

It is a kind of warped existentialism, and one you may not enjoy any more when, oh, you’re not strong, and not fast, and not earning money anymore.

 

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC

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Recent comments

  • Winston adams
    June 29, 2012 - 07:53

    Mr Businessman, you are candid. You act on self interest for you and your family only. Do you consider yourself Christian? Does the rule"love thy neighbour " play any part in the life of you and your family?

  • a business man
    June 28, 2012 - 06:32

    I live in the world of me. I did not go to law school or business school to benefit anyone other than myself. I absolutely vote for a government that is best for me. I fully knew that the conservatives would make deep cuts to social programs, but I also knew that their economic policies would make me wealthier. So I voted for them, went door knocking for them and donated lots of money. I know that future free trade agreements will eliminate manufacturing jobs, but I don't want a manufacturing job for myself or my children, and I can make money in global trade, so I support free trade because it is in my interests. I travel to the USA to conduct business. I don't take the risks associated with air travel, or endure the US security screening to provide a benefit to society, I do it for me. Frankly, each and everyone of us has a duty to live in the world of "me" and do what ever is in your best interests. If everyone puts themselves first, then government must pander to the majority. Make no mistake, I wish each and every single person well, but I will not make my decisions based on the interests of anyone other than myself or my family.

    • William Daniels
      June 28, 2012 - 18:24

      Seriously? Very sad. Professional help may be in order.

    • a business man
      June 29, 2012 - 06:14

      Yes, William Daniels, I am serious. I don't get, however, why professional help may be in order. Should I be using my vote and my money for your or your family? Should I be thinking about my neighbour's livelihood before my own? I think not. Nothing, and I mean nothing comes in front of the interests of myself and my family. I do wish you well William, but your Sir are a stranger. I have no stake in your success or your failure, so I am indifferent as to whether you succeed or fail. The same can be said about every other NLer who is not part of my family...I wish them well, but really am more concerned with ME. I don't wake up every morning to go to work and make money and then pay taxes so I can have the privilege of voting in the interests of someone else. That would just be silly. I would be better off staying home.

  • grisha
    June 25, 2012 - 11:15

    Yes, Terry. Could not have said it better myself. I thought it was funny how RW morphed from making some points that are generally accurate and valid about common courtesy and social decency into advocating his favorite PC causes. Many of that persuasion equate or analigize dissimilar ideas for the purpose of taking from one its positive features to advocate the questionable ones of the other. I am unsure exactly which of the logical fallicies that illustrates, probably more than one, but it will be of no consequence to those who are of like mind.

  • Terry
    June 24, 2012 - 17:07

    Contrary to what the young, idealist and well intentioned have been mislead to believe, political correctness has become the HALLMARK VIRUSof the past 20 years. IT is the self proclaimed ethos of the ME generation. IT is to free thought and expression as to what second hand smoke is to nasal passages. AH!, the educated, enlightened few taking it upon themselves to decide what is best for everybody else.They decide what is or isn't offensive behavior or language.All to promote what is an open political social agenda, usually that of lefist,feminist or BIG BROTHER lobbies and interests. They will encourage all opinions that do not dissent from their own. This mindset is a powerful but vocal minority.They know they can use their favorite weapon of mass distraction, the present media to bestow the moniker of right wing upon anybody who sees through them and their policies for what they are. What is labeled right wing today was considered humane ,common sense, and courteous only 30 years ago. PC has convincingly fooled most people into thinking that PC is synonymous with manners, politeness, common courtesy, social graces ,etiquette, social justice, and tolerance. Reality ,it is a mindset that advances everything form the absurd to socially decadent under the myth of protecting some minority group,opinion, or "stakeholder" cause. It is the ultimate rudeness and intolerance turned inside out to profess the opposite! It is a subtle form of censorship,mind control and the prohibition of thought! "Oh ,disagree with us,then you must be an intellectual neanderthal", say these self appointed sob sisters and the mislead who support them. Yes, I think the subject of PC has everything to do with "the world of me" article. That's what I think, but that's just me. Anyway that's enough about me.Tell me about yourself. What do you think about me?

    • Agnes
      June 25, 2012 - 16:41

      I don't remember racism, sexism, homophobia etc. ever being common sense.

  • Petertwo
    June 24, 2012 - 10:30

    So true, people do tend to be self absorbed in "the world of me". There again so many have never had so much before in the history of the world, especially in Western society. Since WW2 there's been a remarkable upheaval in socialism, universal health care- (at one end of the spectrum some folks can't get born, while others can't get dead). Education, where Phd's and MA's are driving taxis and soon a business degree will be needed to get a job at Macdonalds or in retail. Communication-- there's more knowledge available today in one issue of the New York Times than was ever had in the whole of the 17th century, I've heard tell. Evolution has taken a mighty jump for which no one was prepared for the overload and people are in a sort of limbo, sure to be some negatives until catch up, it will probably take some time. Still it is a very good observation by Russ and definitely worth the comment. Back in the 50's there were some comedys in the movies in the UK based on the theme "Blow you Jack, I'm alright." It did'nt get through then.

  • mom
    June 24, 2012 - 09:13

    At work I constantly have to deal with what I call "the me generation" and it takes a lot of patience. I enjoyed your article. It is nice to know I am not the only one noticing these changes.

  • Too Funny
    June 23, 2012 - 19:15

    "So where did this society of one, this worship of self, come from?" Well, if you need to know, it came from our ancestors. Probably back when we were still swinging in the trees. And It's not limited to humans. No sir, almost all living things have a "me first" mentality. And not just living things, even businesses such as newspapers place their interests before society's. How many times has the Telegram decided to run pictures or stories on the front page for the sole reason to sell papers and make money. And now to hear the editor lament about the "world of me", well, it just seems disingenuous.

    • Paddy
      June 24, 2012 - 08:38

      ...and then a things called 'societies,''civilizations,'and 'communities' evolved and the neoliberals have been whining abolut it ever since. Excellent article, Mr. Wangersky.

    • Politically Incorrect
      June 24, 2012 - 09:45

      Others have pointed out that these snack trucks are a common sight in other cities. Are you saying that your beloved Fortis hasn't the expertise as have the public utilities on the mainland? Perhaps we should take Belize's lead and put hydro in public hands where it can benefit the people.

    • Ida
      June 24, 2012 - 12:04

      @TOO FUNNY: Why is it such a crime to make money selling papers, so long as it's done ethically? Are you suggesting that papers should purposely run the most boring stories they can come up with on their front pages? As for your defense of the "worship of self" mentality, well, we need to start getting some of our priorities straight. It's a destructive and inhumane way to look at life, and no one is immune to suffering the negative effects of it sooner or later.

  • Winston Adams
    June 23, 2012 - 11:08

    Like, who really cares that 90 percent of the then permanent Artic ice shelfs that Capt Bob Bartlett encountered around Ellesmere Island is now gone. And what effect has that on our cold ocean temperature here now and the loss of cod and caplin? All the better that it allows easier Artic navigation, shipping and more oil exploration -to help make our unpredictable whether even worse But that helps keep big poluting cars on the road, and will satisfy the desire for more travel for those who retire. And who cares when our government can only find 2 or 3 million dollars to help keep seniors in their homes, but can find 800 million to pay interest on our public debt, while planning to increase our debt even further. Where's the concern for the needs of society? We are part of the "me first" generation. Our children learn from us. Our grandchildren- I fear they will reap what we sow.

  • wavy
    June 23, 2012 - 09:01

    Bravo Russell! Thank you for putting into words for the remaining few of us who, at some point, have probably been accused of "setting our expectations too high", being old-fashioned or "overly-sensitive" to the societal degradation crumbling all around us. Most days, you go about your day thinking "am I the only one who's noticing these things?" Am I changing? I mean, I'm only 43. Is it me? Or is it something bigger, hemispherically if not globally speaking, slowly descending the corkscrew of a downward spiral? I held a door open for a lady at the gas station yesterday and she froze like she didn't know what to do or thought I was going to mug her or something. This is not about economic prosperity or progress or wealth or technological advances or educational level; this is about apathy and attitude. And changing attitudes and, more to the point, patterns of behaviour, takes a long time, if ever. Just ask any doctor who's ever asked a patient to make a lifestyle change. We are an ill society and planet- we smoke, we consume without thought, we waste. The question is, what's it going to take to get people to wake up from their zombie-like states of comfortable numbness?

  • Yes
    June 23, 2012 - 08:16

    Good article. One needs only go to the local hospital to see the elderly lined up and left to rot waiting for a bed in the nursing home. "Let someone else look after him." Even the doctors and professionals seem to have this attitude about older people. They don't even try. Shove them out of sight somewhere. It is sad. Especially here in Nfld where we have such a strong history of community-mindedness and taking care of each other. Please folks, take the time today and everyday to look around you and see who could use a kind deed. Go visit that elderly relative, drop in on a neighbor and offer to help with something, think before you throw that litter out your car window. And lets not blame this selfish societal attitude on young people. We adults are especially guilty. And we should know better. Put someone else first for a change. Come on, I challenge ya! Just one good deed a day.