Love Yourself – Forget the Neighbor

The impetus for this Musing came from two disturbing clips I heard on National Public Radio’s This American Life program.  Each on its own is minor, but I wonder if, together, they do represent a larger issue.

A little background. My preferred exercise class is a twenty minute drive from our house. This travel time is perfect for listening to podcasts and This American Life is in my rotation. Each week’s episode has a specific focus and listening for few minutes usually tells me if it will be a worthwhile investment of my time. The show gives me insight into the lives of Americans I might not otherwise meet and topics  I might not encounter.

Two of the shows I recently heard revealed a common problem. It didn’t have to do with the topic of either show, but each show included a throw-away statement that caused me to gasp. Both shows were repeats having first run a few years ago, but I doubt that the troublesome attitude has improved over the intervening years.

The problem was insufferable self-centeredness. Most troublesome was that the hosts interviewing each of the individuals involved didn’t seem in the least bit troubled. They seemed to accept their subjects’ words as perfectly reasonable and possibly even amusing.

Show #1: The idea here was to place reporters at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway and have them interview drivers utilizing the rest stop as well as employees of the various franchises. At the time of the taping, the franchises brought in foreign students to work. While they weren’t paid much, they were provided with housing and their visas allowed them time for a month of travel after working for the summer, making it an appealing deal for these young adults.

In the specific portion that troubled me, one of these employees was talking about wild parties taking place in the lodgings. He seemed completely unfazed by the neighbor’s complaints. His interviewer asked him if he was worried that the apartment complex where he and his peers were being housed might not accept temporary workers the next year. His casual response? Why should it worry him since he isn’t planning on coming back?

Show #2: The next extract that bothered me came from a show about Americans living in Paris. A very articulate and professional-sounding lawyer was interviewed who expressed shock at how people in Paris objected when she jumped to the front of the line at a movie theatre. Why did this shock her? Because, she explained, as a Black woman in America, she regularly intimidated white people in line when she jumped to the front and they hesitated to call out her bad behavior. She went on to say how she appreciated the lack of racism in Paris, sounding completely unaware that her behavior back in the States  relied on and exasperated dissension between the races. Having used her race to unfair advantage and specifically to cause fear among those of other races, she seemed blithely oblivious to the idea that she was among those causing others of her race to be viewed negatively. The interviewer chuckled at her story.

What do these two snippets have in common? Utter self-absorption. Not caring that your behavior is going to make things more difficult for other people. Not caring that rowdy late-night party behavior interferes with neighbors who depend on getting to sleep or that students just like you who hope to come to the United States on a similar arrangement will be less welcome. Not caring that people waiting in line will need to stand around longer if you jump the line and not caring that others who share your skin color might be viewed with suspicion and distaste because of your behavior. Other people are irrelevant; only you matter.  And in neither case did the interviewer express the slightest bit of discomfort with these stories.

I am quite sure that traveling students and African-American readers of this Musing might be squirming with discomfort. These stories do not represent them. They probably feel the way my husband and I felt reading the article about Americans of Jewish descent advocating abortion and  that led to our writing this week’s Ask the Rabbi column. Wouldn’t it be better to ignore this bad behavior by those with whom we are instinctively identified and hope that no one notices? That is one approach and it has a lot in common with the proverbial ostrich whose head is in the sand. I’m choosing to point it out because without awareness there can be no change.

Apathy to “the other” is not commendable but it is understandable. Refusing to recognize that our behavior affects those with whom our lives intersect is unfortunate, but it is human nature. Having it pointed out to you and simply not caring, or boasting about it, seems to be another level entirely.  In a world that has excised, “Love your neighbor as yourself” from the education of our youth, what can we do so that self-absorption doesn’t reach a new low?

32 thoughts on “Love Yourself – Forget the Neighbor”

  1. Thank you for pointing that out Susan. I’m from Nigeria 🇳🇬 and this – Self centeredness is the greatest cause of the moral and political corruption that we see in Africa. Most leaders who get into power, wants to amass all the wealth he can steal for himself, his family and his generation unborn. They do not think about others or the future of the country.

    1. Moses, this isn’t only a problem in Nigeria. I’m afraid that many of us think that most politicians and people in power care more for themselves than for the people they are supposed to be serving and we have good cause for thinking so.

      1. So what’s your point really? Seems you have something more to say about the Leaders in power… I’m sure I can learn something.

        And by the way, is there something you can do about this website. You’re already doing a great job. But can notifications be sent to our emails especially if our comment was posted. I’m sure everyone will like to know if his/her comment was posted and if there’s was a reply to it. For instance, I had a to come back to this post to check if there was a reply to my comment.

  2. Mrs. Lapin,
    Thanks for reminder.
    Psych. books write of egotism and self-centeredness. Their greatness of these by non-compassion and comparisons. The comment another made on supposed non-racism in other parts of the world is myopic. Paris has anti-Semitism, and France has history of colonialism, and slavery. Those picking color are whitewashing, and are the pot calling the kettle black.
    One law for all people. Native born and/or stranger among you. So, Dr. King’s, “Dream”, needed by all.
    This parallels Torah in many ways.

  3. The first thing that comes to my mind is The Law of The Cosmos most notably Cause and Effect. Apathetic people will never know during the course of each day how their actions or inactions impact people. Being a retired Police Officer I saw this every day whether impaired drivers caused accidents or drug addicts overdosed they never thought about anyone but themselves.
    As for the foreign students they were given an unusual blessing and instead of being grateful they abused it risking that the program might have been discontinued for future students. As for the woman who cut into the line it is literally a slap in the face for all the people throughout history who fought against slavery and racism. Racism is such an issue in America and we literally hear about it in the news each week along with Politicians using it to get elected. If respect and empathy for others are not taught in the home where will people learn it?

  4. Either all lives matter or no lives matter. Race is not an excuse for bad behavior. If anything (maybe?) one should set the example and try each day to be the best person one can be?!
    As to the liberal idea of tolerance (?), I quote Tom Lehr (sp?): “…I realize that there are people out there who do not love their fellow man and I hate people like that!”

    Take Care, Gordy.

  5. This American Life is so BOGUS that I stopped listening years ago. It insults my intelligence in a negative way. Bear that tendency in mind when you listen to that program.

    1. Brad, I find some of the shows fascinating – some I turn off after a few minutes. I think it is important not to be in an echo chamber and this is one of the things I use to know what people around me, with whom I probably disagree politically, spiritually and intellectually, are hearing and thinking.

    2. Brad if you are still checking in. Just remember USA is still the greatest nation in the world and safest.
      Yes all we see and hear is about the bad. And yes it is on the increase. But even still as long as many of us are here and praying for our great nation God has bless for us and will continue. One day soon we will be gone and so will the blessing on our great nation.

  6. Unfortunately we see the results of this way of thinking throughout our society almost daily
    . Tolerance of it has resulted in a country whose morals have declined to a low that I’m sure most of us could not have imagined years ago. Acceptance of bad behavior, begets more bad behavior.

  7. Hi Susan, I love that you do not hold back on your ideals. That is a true honorable person. Something America is missing. Right or wrong we learn and keep going.
    I have to continue to say it is all in our up bring. If we miss out on family values and the studying of God, we miss the most important things in life.

  8. I am sorry to this Susan but the acts by the people in your story make my blood boil when it really shouldn’t. The “Me First” attitude surrounds me. From the neighbors who dump trash in our streets to the kids who walk in traffic with no apparent reason other than to call attention to themselves and slow traffic. This kind of attitude needs to stop. When I call them out though I am suddenly the ogre. Just soo damn exasperating!

    1. It’s not good for you if your blood boils, Frank, but we should all be concerned the increasing lack of a moral compass. I can understand the late-night partying. What I couldn’t understand was the absolute confusion at why it was a problem, rather than being abashed at one’s own bad behavior.

  9. I’m sure that the tolerant ones in our country would be appalled if I called the acts of the black lawyer, while going to movies stateside, a form of Black Privilege. It is though.

    1. I really hesitated to share that story, Mike, but I think fear of speaking out is becoming an epidemic in our country. I don’t think her story is representative of the people I know but then neither is the article in USA Today representative of me. Both, however, are serious problems for this country’s flourishing.

    2. Right or wrong, my go-to method of dealing with similar situations, when given the choice to either laugh or cry about it, is sarcasm. For example, (If I had been there) upon seeing the rich young ruler set herself apart from the rest of society, I might’ve offered consolation toward my fellow commoners saying, “Apparently, the line isn’t the only thing she skipped, she must’ve ditched the class in social etiquette also.”

      1. The problem is, Nancy, that we are grouped together with others in all sorts of ways, including skin color, weight, religion, income group, etc. So, you would be super-human not to have this affect you next time you are in a position to judge a stranger.

        1. You’re right, Susan. There is always that underlying hypocritical edge permeating whatever side of the line anyone stands and its near if not impossible to walk that line. If at least some of us can step back into the reality that we are all, in this world, but dust and ashes, then we of that remnant can keep looking forward expectantly to that world to come.

  10. I too heard the international young person boasting about learning “to throw parties and play beer pong”, and was just as dismayed at the audio editing choices. I missed the conversation with the Black lawyer, but from your description of the episode, her attitude absolutely exacerbated dissension. No doubt that left you and many others exasperated!
    ‘’Me too”, “Me first” , “me,me, me” – when the popular phrase of the moment changes to “we…” the world will be heading in the right direction.

    1. An astute rabbi wrote of not doing what affected your people negatively. Recalling by this, Mordechai in Megilla Esther. He had reputation worth copy! It rescued his people with Esther’s timely voicing. The cheating and type to get ahead,etc. , is like a Haman. The recall of some with ,”the day was….”, is too often a recollection which wants forgetting. The mini badmouthing to incite others occured seen here and there, due to inflammatory voice and activity makes long-term complications.
      The responses and behaviors matter, don’t they? Sorry I write an Essay like a Tome. This matters.

  11. Do you remember the twilight zone? There was an episode that you would get $1m if you pushed this button. Someone “other” that you didn’t know. The episode posed an ethical dilemma for the character and audience to assess. To push or not to push? You don’t know them, after all. Our protagonist pushes the button… he is rewarded with $1m in cash and a promise that the offer will be made again, the choice to push the button, to someone he doesnt know… it gave me chills as a kid and taught that lesson well!

    1. Somehow I completely missed out on the Twilight Zone. But you are not the first person to mention something deep in it.

  12. This condition of the human element, at first reading, I thought to be something that I had never come across before. Then I began to recall my life and realized that when I was much younger and very selfish, I did indeed act that way. It was not until I began repenting of selfishness that I found the start of a greater love for my brothers and sisters on this life’s journey. As I continue to care for and about all of Father’s children the peace of Heaven grows within me and I am more aware of the promptings of the Spirit to aid others in their needs. So, in answer to your question “… what can we do so that self-absorption doesn’t reach a new low?” May I recommend just that, that we take counsel and direction from the Holy One of Isreal. And follow that peaceful spirit.

  13. The demand for tolerance often comes with the price tag of peace at all costs, and that price is too often painfully high.

      1. My apologies. The unfortunate thing about these situations is that they are also part of the increasing demand for tolerance, including of bad behavior. Our culture has become more about feeling good than doing what’s right. Right and wrong are increasingly becoming fluid concepts like almost everything else. Confronting bad behavior is a risk, with a potential for escalating beyond being called names. It’s becoming the norm to choose peace over calling people out on rudeness. The sad outcome is that in the effort to avoid conflict, more and more people think it’s fine to do whatever they want regardless of how it affects others. Tolerance has replaced the Golden Rule, and lack of outward conflict is now the definition of peace. Personal desires have replaced God. A horribly high price to pay.

        1. No apologies necessary, Judy. I just wasn’t understanding what you were saying, so thanks for elaborating. I agree with you.

      2. Susan, I can’t speak for Judy, but I think her comment was a sly reference to the behavior of the American black woman in Paris. That is to say, there is now such a strict orthodoxy of “tolerance” in the US, to the exclusion of almost everything else, that every other value of good behavior is trampled on. The person exploiting the decent value of tolerance can get away with intimidating others, and those intimidated retreat, no matter the bad behavior, because they are afraid to be seen as “intolerant.” The more this happens, the worse it gets.

    1. Absolutely must have scripture as part of education curriculum not as religion but as theological study from grade school. Madaline O’Hare and atheists lobbied for it to come out, demonic warfare. POTUS must reincorporate or or we are doomed!!!!

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