Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Almighty Self

You. Me. In all our wondrous onliness.

“The great suck of self,” author Walker Percy called the internal noise that complicates our ability to hear. It’s constantly at odds with the instructions we give our youth, at home and at school—that a person should share, pay attention to the feelings of others.

We know those actions don’t always come naturally or easily, even to the women who do much of the early socialization work, as we try to shape our children into good citizens, good members of a team.

It seems, all along, we’re asked to hold contradictory beliefs. We are encouraged to be an individual, to “be best,” to take our talent as far as it will go. But also to “get along” with others, set our selfish dreams aside to earn a living, raise and nurture a new generation of family. If we strive to do both, we’re accused of “wanting to have it all.”

Today we find it easy to indulge ourselves. Earbuds give us personal soundtracks. Streaming allows us to watch movies and sports events alone. Or we can inhabit the alternative reality of video games, where a heady power lies only a button away.

We watch our role models in sports and public life asserting Self, wielding their power, indulging their ego, when self-control is better for everybody. By now, I think even Serena Williams would agree. Maybe some of our political leaders would, too.

Because unrestricted individualism can go rogue, as it did during a road trip we were returning from last week. It happened three times, in three distracted acts, any of which could have caused a highway disaster.

One oncoming 18-wheeler swerved across the center line toward us on a two-lane road out of Cameron; a second rig came up fast behind us in North Texas, crossing into the lane we occupied as though we were not there, pressing us onto the shoulder.

Closer to home, it was a large pick-up towing a 20-foot trailer. You know the spot, I bet, on 290, coming toward Carmine from Brenham. FM 2502 is a left turn, so I’d moved into the left lane, getting ready.  And here comes the pickup from Oevermann Road on the right, crossing 290 in front of me, stopping for oncoming traffic at the median, completely oblivious to the steel trailer behind him that blocked my lane completely. Thank Providence I had good brakes…and an empty lane to my right.

Was the first driver reaching for his coffee? Was the second reading his phone? Was the third simply inexperienced with trailers? Or was each one guilty of solipsism—egocentric focus on himself, unthinking as a toddler intent on the cookie jar?

The distractions of our gadgets reward our solipsism. But we have to resist. We have to postpone the relief from boredom that our smart phones provide when we’re behind the wheel. We have to pay attention to the laws that underpin our way of life.

The alternative is chaos. And somebody, all too often, dies.

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