When I got back to my small town in England after my 40-month stay in Germany (see my last post) I was still only 22. I felt special because I was the only person in my town who had lived such an interesting life. Of course, there is no way I could know I was unique. For all I knew there might have been hundreds or even thousands of people from my town who had done equally interesting things. It’s just that because I didn’t know about them I assumed they didn’t exist.
This is a similar way of thinking to that of my colleague who last week claimed categorically and despite never having looked into the question that there was no evidence for IQ differences between races. What he meant was that he personally had never heard of any. That he was unlikely to have done, given that he only ever reads the New York Times, didn’t occur to him.
Anyway, there I was, back in England, feeling special. Luckily I didn’t admit to anyone else that I was special. It was a secret between me, myself and I.
It occasionally crossed my mind that other people might feel the same. I even sometimes wondered if I wasn’t really special at all and just happened to be standing nearer to myself than to others but I never followed this thought very far.
Yet as The Police once sang, Truth hits everybody, and it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t unusual in any significant way other than being shorter than most people.
Of course intellectually grasping how middle-of-the-road you are is not the same as feeling it in your bones. If things were that easy then none of us would suffer from self-consciousness since we all know in our heads that other people spend no time thinking about us. The problem is that our bones often tell us that the universe revolves around us and the sun orbits the Earth.
Yet my illusions of grandeur did decrease. Thankfully what the brain knows does eventually get absorbed by the bones, even if not completely. Also failing at things helps. I would have liked to get married and have children but that never happened. Also sometimes looking ridiculous is a salutary experience as when you fall over in the street or tell a joke that no one laughs at. These things cause the ego shrivel like private parts in a cold sea. And when all is said and done and since normality is all I would wish for in my imaginary children, why wouldn’t I want it for myself, too?
Then there is the ugly spectacle of watching people who feel special push to the front of a queue or loudly express their banal thoughts. Seen alongside these egotists, normal people start to look both attractive and paradoxically exceptional. After all, it is far easier to hang on to a childish narcissism than to go to the trouble of carving out a realistic, adult perspective on yourself.
Humility is often its own reward. It helps you worry less about yourself and, with your ego eclipsing less of your view, you get to see cherry trees, cows and cottages more clearly.
I am though still curious about one thing. If there are indeed people who have almost no feelings of self-importance, does the world look and feel different to them? Do they jump out of bed in the morning and throw back the curtains with a desire to renew their acquaintance with the world? Because I certainly don’t. I can barely make myself get up. On the other hand some of my Japanese friends find every single thing we encounter in every shop fascinating while I am left wondering what there is to look at. Yes, it’s a cake with a picture of Mount Fuji on it. So what?
So is my ego still getting in the way? Do people without egos even write blogs?