It’s all about me

January 23rd, 2015

“Your 20s are your selfish years.”

I see articles shared on Facebook and Twitter nearly every day. And, far too many of them contain this statement.

I’d like to know why being self-centered is constantly applauded and encouraged. On the other hand, while we rarely see articles about the importance of being caring and self-sacrificing.

Who was the first person to decide that selfishness was an admirable trait? Who thinks that taking care of oneself cannot be accomplished without ignoring others?

And since when did my age dictate my attitude towards everyone else?

This concept makes me wonder where the fad of individualism came from. We are often encouraged to think, “It’s all about me.” Advertisements play to our sense of entitlement and self-worth. Smartphones and other devices are personalized and pull us inward, instead of encouraging face-to-face interaction.

But here at John Carroll University, we are encouraged to become “men and women for others.” Does that mean we’re never tempted to be selfish? I think you know the answer.

I was at a meeting last week, and I could hardly focus on the speaker. I was too distracted by the other students in the meeting who were on their phones, despite sitting in direct view of the person addressing the group. It’s as if they were silently saying, ‘I don’t care what you have to say. In fact, your contribution means so little to me that I won’t even bother to pretend to pay attention. That’s how little respect I have for you.”

Maybe that seems harsh. But imagine that you are the president or another officer of an organization. Imagine that you set aside an afternoon to send emails, reserve a conference room on campus and make a simple flyer.

Then, you draft a short speech, because tomorrow you’re going to present your work at your organization’s weekly meeting.

The next day, you take one last sip of water before clutching your paper tightly and nervously walk to the front of the room. You stand there, smile, and look up at a few dozen people. You begin talking.

Maybe 30 seconds goes by. You’re not quite halfway through your speech. But wait, what’s that? You can no longer see all the faces you saw when you began talking. That’s because half of them are now looking at their tables. Wait, no they’re not. They’re looking at screens. Some are typing and some are scrolling, but none are listening to you.

You finish your speech and sit down, but you don’t feel a sense of pride or accomplishment. Instead, you’re disappointed. You feel as though your hard work means nothing to the people who will benefit from it.

Does any of that sound familiar? Have you ever been one of those people in the room, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram instead of giving your full attention?

I’ll guess that nearly all of us have. We’re not perfect, and we’re easily bored. That happens when you’re used to instant gratification. We want a new song to download immediately. We want Netflix to stop buffering and start playing as soon as we click “next episode.” Technology has provided wonderful innovations, but it comes with a price.

I know it’s tempting to pick up your phone for the rewarding feeling of entertainment. Remember that you’ll have time for that when you’re by yourself, whether it’s at home or in a waiting room. But when you’re in a meeting or class, try to think about what it’s like to be the leader or the professor.

Follow the age-old advice to put yourself in their shoes. Listen, and you may walk away with a new thought or idea. And, you might find that listening and showing respect can be rewarding, too.