October 14, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We think ‘I’ is the most important word in any language

Cynthia DewesDid you ever notice how personally most of us take catastrophes in our lives? We’re offended when bad things happen to us good people, especially when we had no control over what happened.

For example, we’ve listened to the people around New Orleans saying, “Why me?” on the TV when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and destroyed their homes or businesses.

I’m sure people in many states are saying it again now in light of all the floods and other natural disasters which have happened so often lately throughout the U.S.

Most of us are miffed to discover all the ailments that accompany aging. What’s worse, they’re happening to me! And we often don’t have much patience with others who are experiencing the same thing.

When our spouse graduates from selective hearing to actual deafness, we take it personally. We pout if he or she doesn’t hear what we say or gets it wrong. We make scenes over missed appointments or obligations even when they were really just misheard, not carelessly forgotten. Aging presents a variety of problems over which we have little control.

But it’s another thing to make a bad decision and have to endure the consequences. If we decide to cheat just a little and get caught, we figure we deserve it. If we hastily marry an untrustworthy person, we’re not exactly surprised if the marriage fails. Or if we abuse or ignore our kids, despite all our rationalizations, we have no valid excuses when they act out.

At one point in time, people thought the sun revolved around the Earth. After all, people lived on Earth, and wasn’t it obvious that everything centered on them and their world? Even the Church fought scientific evidence to the contrary for a while. It was just too hard to believe that the natural order did not obey human self-centeredness.

Maybe we should never have learned that we’re made in the image of God because it sure made some of us feel important. Think of the Christian believers in predestination who were convinced that they must be the Elect in contrast to all those other poor slobs who were not. Or think of all the religious wars throughout history between faiths claiming to be the only one favored by God.

Also, we often took the imperative to be stewards of the Earth to mean that we could treat the rest of God’s creation however we pleased. We could abuse the soil, make animals suffer or waste natural resources just because we wanted to be comfortable or because it was convenient. After all, hadn’t God entrusted them to us as the masters of the universe?

Sometimes this attitude extended to “me first” in human relationships as well. Our perceived “needs” came first. Sometimes we even went to war as nations because of selfish human desires.

Christ startled everyone by insisting instead that we must always put the other guy first. We must forgive 70 times seven or treat our neighbor as we would like to be treated. Our human obligation is to love and to serve others, and to do so without whining.

Babies come into this world needing everything and thus being the natural centers of attention. Then they learn the word “I”—or “me” in toddler talk—and continue expecting to be the king or queen of the family. But when they finally grow up, some later than sooner, they learn to use “I” sparingly. And, hopefully, the egotism that goes with it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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