Monday, March 11, 2013

Losing Oneself

Everything I experience comes from my limited perspective--I can only see what my poor eyes allow me to, I can only hear what is within my hearing range, I can only feel what I myself have touched.  Literature expresses this so well, with those middle-school terms you have to memorize denoting perspective, like "first person" or "third person", or my favorite, "omniscient".  What a lovely idea that is--a narrative that tries to capture what it would be like to experience omniscience.  Literature is powerful for how it functions as more than a mirror to reality, but as a medium for helping us understand the unknowable.

This is especially a virtue because I think you could say that learning to transcend one's own limited perspective is what life is about.  It's easy to glibly state it, but it's really, really hard to do.  We tend to label and categorize so easily-- while it's frowned on to do it racially, we do it politically and religiously--with ideology it's somehow acceptable.  It's also much easier to gasp "men!" with exasperation when things go romantically awry (I should know--I do this all the time) than to try to understand another person's motivations as an individual, or as someone who, like me, is conflicted and flawed, who sincerely wants to do good but so often mucks it up.

What if--what if I could really feel just as happy for someone else to have good fortune as for myself?  What if I could really love other people so much that their professional successes would fill me with as much satisfaction and pride as if I had done it myself?  What if I really felt, at a dear friend's wedding, like her joy and hopefulness were as good as if they belonged to me?  We SAY things like that all the time--"I couldn't have been happier if it had been me promoted!", and I think to some degree we do this because our joy at the moment truly is so full that we feel words cannot adequately express it, so we resort to hyperbole.  And I also DO believe that there are some relationships so dear that this is actually true--I think many parents really feel the purest and most unselfish joy and pain for their children.  But I think this is much rarer than we acknowledge, and is limited to only our few closest relationships.  So what if the joy and pain of other people--people not ostensibly like me, who I might not have an easy affinity for--were so valuable to me that I could weigh my own inconvenience against their need and the greatest good would always win?  Yep--utterly unimaginable.


robin marie said...

I read a book recently that said that others joy does not detract from our own but only adds to joy, including our own. That thought kind of made me cringe. I remember having a hard time when friends found steady boyfriends. And I've had an even harder time the more friends announce pregnancies (and second and thirds!) but I think there must be something to that sentiment. I just have not achieved it yet!

Czechdeb said...

Totally--there's that, and then there's the other thing, which I really worry about: Sometimes I'm really glad for friends and family to have good things happen to them, but it's like I can't shake the feeling that I don't care nearly as much as I do about my own life. Like it's not that important to me. Ick.