The Decline of Self-Awareness

I was on the escalator at Macy’s heading to the second floor in what would be a futile attempt to find a pair of slippers in Southern California during the summer months. When I reached the top and began to step off the escalator, I realized the woman in front of me had stepped off but was still standing there deciding which way to walk. It apparently did not occur to her that she was standing in the exact spot I would be arriving upon the completion of my ascent up the escalator. Fearing I would be rear ended by the surly man behind me and causing a three-person pile up, I gently pushed the woman to the side and explained it’s probably a good idea to step aside after one reaches the top of an escalator. She raised her eyebrows and stormed away.

Many people blame mobile devices for distracting people and making them unaware of other people and what is going on around them. While this may be true to a certain extent, I believe it’s not quite that simple. It seems to me we are living in selfish times, where it is every man or woman for him or herself. Not only are people only concerned about the proverbial “number one,” they are completely unaware of anyone or anything else around them.

When I drop off my children at school, I constantly see kids crossing the street wherever and whenever they want as if there were no cars in sight. I have seen children walk right in front of cars – including mine – as if they were invincible. I have often wondered if these children don’t see the cars or just don’t care and expect the cars to stop for them. If they don’t see the cars, is it because they are daydreaming, or is it because they don’t acknowledge there is something else besides them in the universe? If they do see the cars but don’t care, I’m not sure exactly what that means.

As a society we are drifting in a very lonely and self-centered direction. It is bad enough to not care about others, but to care so little that you don’t even see them is an entirely different ballgame. Couple this with the inability of many people to know what is going on within a 3-foot radius of where they are standing and you have a person who is completely detached from anything outside of their own being.

I was eating in a small café and one of the waitresses was leaving after her shift ended. She put on her coat, picked up her purse and was headed out the door. Anyone could clearly see she was off-duty and leaving. On her way out a woman at the table next to me asked her for some water, completely oblivious to the fact that the waitress had finished her shift and was headed out the door. Did she not realize this, or did she just not care? Or does it matter? Either way, the degree of self-centeredness and lack of awareness was staggering.

Examples of our collective lack of concern for others are plentiful. We all see it in some form every day we leave the confines of our homes. And unfortunately for many, we see it within the confines of our homes as well. The question becomes what can we do? As individuals, we can make a commitment toward improving our external sensory devices and being more aware of what is happening in our immediate vicinity. As parents, we can try to instill this in our children so they grow up to be focused not only on their needs, but those of others. The other issue is when we do encounter an instance of selfish oblivion, is it OK to point it out to the offending person? If someone charges into an elevator before people have a chance to exit, do we just ignore it or is it appropriate to say “Excuse me, but it would be better if you let people get off the elevator before you get on.” I’ve done this and am usually viewed as being rude. But I would argue it’s not only appropriate, but our responsibility to speak up as long as it is done respectfully.

I hesitate to think what life will be like 25 years from now if our ability to be aware and considerate of others continues to erode at the current rate. We are so overly concerned about our own needs that we completely ignore the needs and very existence of others.

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