I read this quote in Franz Kafka’s popular and absolutely amazing short story The Judgement.
“So now you know what else existed in the world outside of you, before you knew only about yourself!”
Reading this from the story felt like seeing through a kaleidoscope – moments from my own life where I was either saying this to someone or was at the receiving end of this ‘angry’ remark.
In the spirit of complete honesty, I did deserve having it said to me on several occasions.
But on all of them? Hell no!
However, if you ask me if the people I said it to deserved it, I would probably say yes on most of those occasions.
Where is this bias coming from? And am I alone in feeling that I am right and the world is wrong?
Turns out that the answer is NO.
There is a humongous volume of literature around human selfishness. Glaucon, a Greek philosopher, is known to have mentioned in a discussion with Socrates that people’s good behavior actually only exists for self-interest.
Hell! Forget literature and just take a look around. Betrayals, fraud and meanness hog headlines in newspapers and prime time television.
Think selfish leaders driving their own countries to war, or bringing them to the brink of bankruptcy. Think spouses fighting in front of their kids every day. Think an alcoholic father caring for his own pleasure more than the well being of the people who depend on him. Think kids insulting their parents to conform to peer ‘requirements’.
We are selfish, aren’t we?
Yes we are, but there is a silver lining.
We are not all selfish to the extent of narcissism. More often than not, we feel guilty when we realize our mistake. Some of us even act on it and apologize.
This does two things – we feel better and so does the person we wronged. There’s nothing more relieving than admitting – to someone whom you wronged – that you realize your mistake and regret your behavior towards them.
Sometimes, when we care for a person too much, we might even swallow our pride and apologize for the mistakes we know we didn’t make (I can see those of who you are spouses or partners smiling at this).
There are quite a few altruistic people out there – willing to risk their own lives for the greater good. And luckily the world has been producing gentle souls like those since time immemorial as well. And the world is all the better for it.
Not all of us can be Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela. If you aspire to be one, go you! I am proud of you.
But for the less ambitious ones out there, what is our role? What can we do to contribute?
It’s pretty simple actually….
Next time when your spouse fights with you, before retorting, take your time, think what might be causing him/her to behave that way.
Did you leave them alone to take care of the kids for a month ?
Did you ditch three dates in a row?
Did you not offer help with the chores when they were in desperate need?
Next time when an ageing parent makes a rude remark, instead of getting into ‘self-defense’ mode, try to understand what might have caused them to do it.
Are they feeling neglected?
Are they in pain?
Kindness, like money, grows manifold when invested right. But unlike money, it can’t be stolen or destroyed. Hoarding the currency of kindness only makes our life as well all those it touches better.
Next time you feel that the world revolves around you, remind yourself that it has got better things to do!
If you liked this quote from the short story The Judgement (written by renowned author Franz Kafka), you might want to take a quick look at the summary of that story. You can check it out here: