By Mike Williams
Two fish swimming up the stream encounter a frog.
The frog says, “Good morning! How’s the water?” The fishes keep going downstream for a bit, and then one fish turns to the other and asks, “What’s water?” Those who know me expect that now I’m going to provide some commentary about the nature of reality and perception. Instead, I want to talk about my drive to work.
Sitting in traffic, I look into my side view mirror to see a Prius racing up the shoulder of the highway. I’m suffering through the traffic while this person feels they can pass us all up. This person with “Coexist” and “Give Peace A Chance” stickers has the entitlement to bypass the things we all have to go through.
That is until the truck covered in patriotic “One Nation Under God” stickers moves into the shoulder blocking the way. The Prius exits, whips back onto the freeway, and a game of road rage unfolds
This causes the traffic to get worse. Inconvenienced, I rush to the gym but someone is in my parking place. The lot has many open spaces, but mine is occupied. Someone is at my favorite treadmill and my iPad’s battery ran out. I receive an email stating that—despite my recommendations—the company is going to go a different way that I know will fail.
You see it’s the nature of reality to view it in the first-person. For the fish, water is as natural as air is to us; the fish knows no alternative. The universe unfolds for us alone, so the driver on the shoulder thought he was better than me. It had nothing to do with the fact that if he was late one more time he’d be fired. The truck driver believes in equality enough to block the car for all of us, but can’t see how it causes a delay for those behind him.
The parking space was the best for a wheelchair, and that treadmill is the one normally used after I finish, but I was running late today. The decision the company makes is the best choice financially, and my iPad just sucks because I really wanted to finish that story.
I don’t know if any of that is true, but since I can only see the world through my eyes, everything unfolds as events happening to me. I am the center of my own universe. What am I saying here? We are all so self-centered that we can’t recognize things happening to others? No, that’s not the point.
I’m talking about how we see the universe unfolding with us at the center because we have no other frame of reference. The fish just swims along never knowing there is anything other than water until the frog shares his experience of air. All of those people this morning very well could have been real jerks, and I’m still not convinced that Apple isn’t part of battery-killing conspiracy orchestrated so that I’ll buy new equipment.
I just don’t know the whole story, and likely never will.
In the end, what does it really matter? Did the universe come along and tell me I am the great judge of things right or wrong? Are any of those things my responsibility to correct? What value do I receive from being angry or taking action on any of these things? Well, except for my iPad; I’m a little touchy about that one.
As we assess the value, we also have to assess the cost. What’s the rest of my day going to be like if I let my mood be affected by a punk in a Prius?
Look, I’m not saying you just take it. Don’t roll over and let people take advantage of you. Don’t go out of your way to make accommodations to people who don’t deserve it. That’s a quick way to the mentality of a victim, or worse, a martyr.
If someone runs into my kid’s wheelchair at a store, you better believe there’s going to be words. That’s because there’s value to the conversation. A person like that needs to be set straight. Okay, maybe not, but the value of satisfaction surpasses the cost of the consequences.
We all live in our own self-centered universes, but that’s part of being human not inherently selfish. We don’t know the whole story and many of us don’t want to learn that there’s more. This is just how it is. People are unaware and some people are so unaware that they are self-indulgent.
They aren’t the part that matters. You are. You recognize this and have the opportunity to make choices armed with more information. You don’t have to try to change the world because what world would you be changing?
From the perspective of the individual, there are billions of worlds out there. Each one of them specific to that one person. The only world you can change is your own.
Mike Williams and his children solve the problems of the world from their front porch swing. Fortune brought him to his greatest teacher, a profoundly disabled child who taught Mike the value of quiet observation and deep belly laughs. Though he has spent his life studying the teachings of the Buddha, it wasn’t until his son taught him the value of being aware and in the moment, that any of those teachings made sense to him. A longtime advocate for mental health, Mike uses these observations to help others understand that the world is a lot bigger and more beautiful than we like to think it is.
Editor: John Lee Pendall
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