I remember an old, old Peanuts cartoon. Charlie Brown is watching Lucy and another girl from afar. He approaches them: “You girls were talking about me, weren’t you!” he says accusingly.
“No we weren’t,” the girls say with a smug expression. Charlie Brown reverts to his earlier distant position, and waits a bit. Only to return once again, and ask: “How come you girls never talk about me?
We All Act Like We’re the Center of the Universe
A basic human presumption seems to be that we are, each of us, the Center of the Universe (COTU).
I recall reading about a Brazilian native tribe largely insulated from the rest of the world. Some westerners took two tribesmen on a trip to Sao Paulo, and then New York.
At their first stop, a large village of several hundred, they were a little nervous, but not intimidated. Then they made it to Manaus, Sao Paulo, and so on. At each stop, they became more shut down. When they finally returned to their part of the Amazon, they were permanently shocked out of their beliefs, and were not much the better for their education.
The Chinese call their land The Middle Kingdom. World maps in the US have, guess which country at the center? Not the same country as with maps sold in, say, France.
Years ago I read a study of students and professors. The study asked students how much time they spent thinking about the professors (not much), and how much time they thought the professors spent thinking about them (a lot,the students figured).
The professors, asked the same questions, said they didn’t in fact spend much time thinking about the students, but they were sure that the students, of course, spent lots of time thinking about them. Wrong again. Center of the Universe. COTU all over the place.
On a more cosmic scale, it was only recently in history that we could as a species countenance the idea that the universe might not revolve around planet earth. And as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, each child grows up thinking his family, her bedroom, is probably the center of the universe.
Some of us—some a bit more than others—escape from the tyranny of self, but only just a little bit. We get angry, resentful and afraid—basically because people don’t behave the way we would like them to. After all, aren’t we the center of the universe?
We’re Not the Center of the Universe–Fortunately
Of course, we are most assuredly not. All those would-be subjects of ours aren’t paying us homage—basically they’re just not that into us. They pay us about as much attention as we pay them (embarrassingly little, and please don’t tell anyone).
But there are two great causes for optimism in this observation. First, since most of humanity doesn’t really concern itself with us (or give a damn?), we are quite free of the bondage of others’ opinions. Our slavery is of our own creation. We hold our own keys to freedom.
Second, once we see that others have the same uni-centric disease that we do, we can lighten up a bit and reach out over the 50-50 line for a touch of human contact.
Yul Bryner once said, “We come into this world alone, and we leave it alone; and if someone offers you kindness along the way, you don’t spit on it.” And, by and large, we don’t.
Bryner’s is the minimalist version. The maximalist version is that if you touch someone, you help to free them from their own self-obsessed bondage. By reaching outside yourself, you initially delight them; but quickly that turns to teaching by example. You show that it can be done, and you role-model the benefits of doing so.
If you live in the space that says you’re the center of the universe, people’s orbits tend to fly away from you. But if you reject that belief, then people become attracted to you; oddly, you become (directionally) the center of much more. They trust you.
If you think this blogpost isn’t about business, please think again. Think of what it means for sales, customer service, negotiation, contracts writing, supply chain management, marketing, advising, accounting, and customer engineering.
You are not the center of the universe. What a blessing. Go pay attention to someone else.