When you’re a small child, you feel that everything is about you.
Your parents often encourage that delusion. They try to create a bubble where your needs are satisfied, your feelings are considered, and your safety is ensured. It’s a bubble where fairness matters, and nothing very bad can happen. The more conscientious the parents, the worse the delusion.
Then you grow up. Ugh. The world isn’t as nice as you thought it was.
Your needs are often frustrated. Your feelings are sometimes crushed. Fairness plus three dollars will get you a cup of coffee.
But still, in the back of your mind, you feel as if everything is about you. Everything is your business, and everything is your problem.
If you thought about it explicitly, you’d know it wasn’t true. But it just sits there in the back of your mind, affecting how you see everything.
There’s a famine in Africa. There’s a cheating scandal in college admissions. There’s a horrible crime, pretty much anywhere, all the time. Politicians — well, that one is self-explanatory.
And then you still have to add in the problems that affect you directly.
In a world that’s all about you, it’s too heavy an emotional burden to bear.
Is it any wonder that people pop anti-depressant pills like they’re candy?
I’ve got good news for you, and some bad news.
The good news is that the world isn’t all about you. You’re not responsible for everything that goes wrong. In fact, you’re responsible for hardly any of it — at least, unless you’re a real schmuck with a lot of power, which most of us aren’t.
The bad news is that the world isn’t all about you. You’re not that important. Neither am I. When we realize it — not only intellectually, but emotionally — we take a giant step toward becoming rational adults.
And the other good news is this: As rational adults, we can improve things in ways that are possible instead of dreamy and utopian.
Maybe we’re not all that important in the grand scheme of things. But we’re important to our families, our friends, and our communities. We’re important to those we affect by our work or by our personal example.
And we’re important to ourselves: there’s nothing shameful about it. If we can look at our lives and see more good deeds than bad, see more that we contributed to the world than took from it, then we have earned our self-respect.
You’re not God. You can’t fix everything. Do what you reasonably can, and maybe just a little more. And then you’ve earned your self-respect.
Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Foreword Reviews called it “intriguing and vital to living.”