Recently I’ve been thinking what a mistake it is to have too good an opinion of yourself. You shouldn’t feel you are too good for the crush on the morning train, too important to do the washing-up or that you are above listening to someone who is a bit boring. Yet sometimes I do. I want to be somewhere else or with someone else. I feel restless and mildly irritated. It’s like being a resentful teenager condemned to spending Sunday with your parents when all you want is to be with your friends.
What got me thinking about this was the French film The Dinner Game in which a group of friends find and then invite ‘idiots’ to their monthly dinner. The group of friends then spend the evening secretly make fun of their guests. One particular dinner is cancelled but still one ‘idiot’ turns up. He is friendly, enthusiastic, a little boring and odd, naive and uncomplicated, but on the whole a very nice bloke. By the end of the film the cool but cruel host realises that for him to look down on this ‘idiot’ is ridiculous; the latter is both more likeable and more full of humanity. It is really the host who has been a fool for sneering at him and imagining that he was somehow better than his ‘idiot’.
Yet sometimes I also have a tendency to dismiss people too easily. I make judgements about who is worth talking to and who isn’t, who and what should be avoided and how best to spend my precious time. Of course it’s necessary to be a little choosy, otherwise you wouldn’t get anything done. Instead you would be like a toddler, constantly distracted by the first thing that catches your eye. Even so, there is probably a happy medium between instant rejection and undiscerning fascination.
While on the subject of toddlers, it seems to me that young Japanese children are especially curious about the world around them. Even when they get older they show more enthusiasm and interest than their rather world-weary, cynical peers over in England. The latter only seem to pay attention to things they either want to eat them or make fun of them. They are so full of self-importance by the tender age of twelve that there is little room for interest in anything else. What they need is a little humility.
Some people seem to be naturally humble and are never in danger of thinking themselves special. Other people learn humility through experience. I sometimes imagine John Profumo might be a case in point. One day he was being lionised by everyone and the next he was vilified by the whole world. This must have come as quite a shock. Something similar, though on a smaller scale, happened to David Beckham after his sending off in the 1998 World Cup. He, however, managed to reclaim his lionised status. Still, it has sometimes occurred to me that he was probably a better man for his temporary fall from grace. The same is probably true of bullies who get punched in the face. Rude awakenings can be a useful.
Some people believe they are special and insist that others acknowledge their specialness. They remind me of swaggering silverback gorillas or strutting peacocks. Yet if happiness is their goal then I think they are going about things the wrong way. Feeling you are surrounded by people similar and equal to you must surely be more conducive to happiness than feeling you are superior to those around you.
In the end I think being convinced of your own ordinariness is a good strategy and one that’s easy to adopt. There is no need to sit for 10,000 hours in the lotus position, watching your breathing and trying to persuade yourself that ‘you’ don’t really exist, which is meditation’s way of deflating the ego. This seems to me to be taking self-nullification to an unnecessary extreme. All you really need is to get down off your high horse and lose some of you preciosity.