The Antidote to Self-Obsession Is Awe
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
Is she mad at me? I wondered. I had met a new-ish friend for lunch the week before, and after our hangout, I texted her. “Had a great time,” I said. “Let’s do it again soon!” She never responded. Naturally, I flipped through the Rolodex of Dumb Things I might have done. Did I make too many puns? Was it my rant about people who don’t like cats? Maybe I shouldn’t have let her pay — how rude of me! Eventually, she called. She had gotten into an argument with her partner and was in a crap mood the whole weekend, she said. I was so stuck in my own head that I couldn’t fathom her silence might not have anything to do with me.
You’ve probably been there. You say something silly at a work meeting or at a party or maybe during lunch with a new friend. Then you spend the next few hours (maybe the next few days?) ruminating over your perceived social blunder, worried about what your friends or coworkers might think.
We all know the logical thing is to remember that nobody cares. Everyone is usually too caught up in their own stuff to worry about yours. It sounds perfectly reasonable, but human beings are not reasonable creatures. When you start ruminating about yourself, it’s hard to stop. You’re like a fly trapped in a web of your own self-obsession. Tunnel vision sets in, and it’s difficult to see things from a wider perspective. But if self-obsession is viewing the world through the narrow window of self, could awe be the antidote?
We’ve all shared the same feeling of being smacked by the splendor of something amazing, a reminder that there’s a massive world outside of our own limited one.
For example, one Friday afternoon during a video chat with friends, I said something I immediately regretted: I told them a secret from my past. After the call, I had a major vulnerability hangover. Why would I tell them that? I thought. They probably think I’m a monster. I couldn’t get the worry out of my head. But the next morning, I went on a camping trip my husband and I had planned for the weekend. We hiked through green mountains, made chili by the campfire, and woke up to brightly…