There is a dividing line between two quite different ways of thinking and living, and everyone seems to rest on one side or the other.
Two Sides of a Fence
Children exemplify both sides more equally than adults, who have lived experiences that have shaped their thoughts behavior in one direction or the other. Adults seem to be more on one side or the other than children are.
The dividing line is: those who consider the viewpoints of others and those who do not consider the viewpoints of others.
It’s not my intention here to divide people, but to point out an existing division and examine it. By observing humans (most importantly myself), I’ve determined that some are basically considerate of others and some are basically not. It’s not a black-and-white thing, but rather a continuum of blacker or whiter grayness.
Consideration of others can also be called empathy. Inconsideration of others can also be called narcissism.
Some people seem to force consideration in ourselves at crucial moments, or to be compelled by some inner voice to “do the right thing” when we have the opportunity to show consideration…or not. Some of us deliberate, mulling over moral duties or imagining what God or Grandma would think of our choice in that moment. After such decision-making, many of us then act in consideration rather than blatant or obvious inconsideration.
Indeed, this deliberation, compulsion, and even forcing are themselves “consideration” for others–at least to the degree that they aren’t merely calculated or fearful acts of self-preservation. The outward, visible consequence (such as saying, “Thank you”) comes after the “consideration” itself.
A Window to Inner Values
Most inconsideration appears in mundane daily interactions like driving, shopping, or talking to our kids. (One’s parenting, and its results in the character of one’s grown children, can tell others a lot about one’s side of the narcissistic/empathetic “consideration line” that I’m describing here. Where do you suppose kids learn to be considerate–or not–and whose behavior gave them a daily example?)
I drive a lot, so I have lots of opportunities to show either consideration or inconsideration, and I also see a lot of both attitudes in others when they drive in my vicinity. I often feel that I have a glimpse into another person’s psyche when these encounters happen, either between myself and another, or as an observer when other people interact in traffic.
I see driving as a microcosm of human behavior because I believe that the values one shows through driving reflect the values they have at all times. This belief has merit so far in my own experience–although anyone can have a bad day and speed or cut someone off in traffic.
The same can be true of one’s shopping habits, parenting practices, and in many other ways: talking to telemarketers on the phone; returning an item at the store; working in sales or customer service; selling one’s used car; and sharing or not sharing what one has with others in need.
Although a lot of ways that we can show either our narcissism or our empathy might seem trivial, one’s “small” actions show clearly one’s overall attitude. If a person is inconsiderate to the checkout lady, why would he or she act differently toward other people, in other situations?
A duck will quack, either loud or soft. But it will not bock like a chicken–especially in a crisis.
On the inconsiderate side of the fence, people seem most interested in causing their own will to negate or override the will of others, rather than sharing with others or seeking consensual mutual agreement. It seems that, in their fear–and all fears are ultimately fears of death, pain, or not existing–they are blind to the equally valid needs of others.
There’s a word for this blind and fearful inconsiderate negation of the will of other people by an adult human being: Narcissism, with a capital “N”.
“Do Unto Others”…How?
In a Christian society, there would be no destitute, homeless people (except by their own preference) and no extremely wealthy people, either (except perhaps by mutual social agreement). Consideration does not allow others to suffer when one has the ability to alleviate it.
In our own supposedly Christian society, even those of us who don’t accept the teachings of the Church in all its versions generally regard Jesus as a teacher and wise man. It’s from Jesus (and, yes, others) that we learn to be considerate:
“In all things, to unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
If people in our society are following this “Golden” Rule, then it seems from their behavior that many folks would have others be inconsiderate to them. Perhaps they expect others to treat them that way, and so they treat others inconsiderately in kind, in advance, out of habit or programming.
This idea–that inconsiderateness is a pre-emptive defense mechanism–suggests that it is a product of the “ego” that I identify as the immediate source of mental and emotional suffering in self and others. Out of fear, the ego seeks only to preserve itself, in the belief that not doing so (such as being considerate of others) is suicide.
This, again, is Narcissism.
Ego and Spirit
So, then, inconsideration (or narcissism) is a fear-based egoic thought pattern–as opposed to consideration (or empathy), which in my personal scheme of things is a trust-based spiritual thought pattern. We are always under the influence of one or the other, being led in our thoughts and actions by one or the other.
Consideration is certainly a spiritual quality or “value”–that is, it comes from the Spirit, from the deepest inner being, the truest Self which is one’s most genuine expression, without the contamination of the wrong ideas of the ego.
That same Spirit exists in others as their deepest inner being, and those who perceive Spirit in themselves also recognize Spirit in others.
This recognition of Self-in-others is the essence of consideration (empathy). It is the essence of spirituality and the Golden Rule. It is also the essence of a healthy and functional society, particularly a society whose members claim to follow the teachings of Jesus.
Written on January 29, 2011, and freshly edited on December 17, 2016.