What happened to the benefit of the doubt in society?

From the Editor's Desk

Is it easier and more fulfilling in life to assume the worst and consistently send a message to others that we expect the worst in them and think the worst of them?

Many of us consistently do this when the individual on the other end of our assumption has shown, through years of actions, that he or she will deliver the best, and not the worst, no matter how dire or negative circumstances seem.

And even if someone displays a track record of the worst, do we assume that no one changes? Do we consistently tell them they are incapable of change? If so, why waste money on rehabilitation and therapy?

David Foster Wallace, a brilliant and compassionate writer who sadly hanged himself in 2008, said during a speech that a “huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.”

One example was the belief he was the center of the universe, according to his immediate experiences.

Wallace said people rarely talk about this “natural, basic self centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth.”

We are the center of all our experiences.

Wallace assured his audience he wasn’t going to preach about so-called virtues such as compassion, because, in reality, it was not a matter of virtue but a matter of choosing to do the work to alter or get free of “my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.”

Wallace provided an example of someone heading home at the end of the work day, tired and stressed out. You hit the grocery store and traffic is bad and it takes long and everyone is trying to squeeze into the grocery store, filled with hurried people with carts, slow old people and kids who block the aisle. The checkout is long and the lady working it, frantic.

Reach Editor Stephen Bartlett at stephen@denpubs.com.

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