The Benefits of Impersonality

We are each the centre of the universe. At least this is how we experience the world from our own unique and subjective point of view. This is something that we all have in common. We are each the centre of our own universe. What most of us fail to realise is that we are merely the objects in another person’s world and not subjects. The most important person in any one person’s life is normally himself or herself, and this could explain why we react to uncontrollable situations as though they actually happen to us.

We often see people as objects that affect us and this is the cause for so much of our day-to-day issues. A friend is late for a dinner and we feel like something was done to us personally. Someone cuts us off in traffic and we feel offended like they did this to spite specifically us and flip them off. We are also quick to label people because once someone is labelled they become even more of an object. For example, if someone labels you a racist they have not only dehumanised you to a simple word but also their actions following, to them, will feel more justified. They can act hostile and shut you down or even attempt violence because that’s what they think should be done to a racist. We even have ways of confirming to ourselves that something was done to us personally rather than it just happening. We tell ourselves stories. For example, “I knew John was going to be late for dinner! That’s just like him; he never cares about what I do”. This kind of internal monolog/dialog is a form of confirmation bias. We want to feel personally affronted by John being late so we create a story in our mind that confirms this. “He never cares about what I do” makes this about us personally. John is now the object of our hurt. And unfortunately for John he may have no idea that the spontaneous traffic jam that caused him to be late was actually of his own causing and was a deliberate and specific attempt to hurt our feelings. But the way we unconsciously react is entirely understandable because we do not see our life from some third person perspective or sky view. Even the most introspective and reflective people cannot see their lives entirely objectively. If we cannot escape our first person point of view then what can we do about the things that, although they just randomly happen, feel like they are happening to us personally?

The first thing we can attempt to do is to not personalise our experience. Not much that happens is generally about us. In fact, almost everything that has, is and will ever happen is not about us. Things happen. They are not personal and most people that seem to do things to us were not actually thinking of us at the time. We know this because most of the things we do are done with little thought about the influence they might have on others. Rather, they are done while thinking solely of oneself, and since we know this we can also know that others are merely thinking of themselves and not us when their actions seem to be done to us.

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” – Spinoza, The Ethics.

The second thing we can attempt is to try and view things through the eyes of pure objectivity. We can try to get a sky view of the situation before we allow irrationality to take over. We can wait until John arrives and then ask him why he was late, or perhaps John will volunteer his reasons before we ask if we just give him a chance. Once we have more information and realise John was trying to arrive on time but got caught in traffic, the situation now becomes completely impersonal. There is no need to feel anything about John being late.

We can conclude that if we feel this way about others then they must also, at least sometimes, feel this way about us. We are often the person who by sheer accident or bad luck has personally affronted someone without our knowing. There is little that can practically be done about something that for most of us is automatic and subconscious. We can, at the least, understand that things like feeling personally affronted by random events and unintentional actions are experienced not just by us but by others about us. And that our life, our universe, is the most important thing in our experience, and since everyone else shares a similar subjective experience then we know others also value it significantly.




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