Friday, May 02, 2008

I Am the Center of Everything

One summer, I had a young couple from Australia staying in my home for a week. They were actually from Tasmania, which is an Australian Island.

As I was giving them a tour of my house, we entered my library. There, on the wall is a large map of the world. Being the traveler that I am, I love to look at the entire world and dream of all the places I have yet to see.

As Mark walked up to the map, he said, "Interesting."

I asked him what was interesting. He said, "I've never seen a map of the world with North America dead center on the map."

We started looking at the map, and it became obvious to me that in order for North America to be in the center of the map, Europe and Russia had to be split down the middle and displayed partly on each side. Mark talked about how all the maps he'd seen (not produced by American companies) were quite different, and laid out in a way that made a little more 'geographic sense.'

I thought it was a profound moment. At least a moment for potential reflection about the propensity to place oneself at the center of everything!

What does it say to someone else when we view ourselves as the center of everything? How would our friendships work if we did that? Our marriages? Our relationships to our kids? If we place ourselves smack dab in the middle of the universe and everything revolves around us, how will we treat others?

This is as true a principle at the individual level as it is on a national scope. The US foreign policy is chock full of examples of placing ourselves as the center of the universe and expecting everyone else to line up around the edges... just like the map.

I always bristle when I hear politicians proudly proclaim that the most important goal is to 'protect American interests' in issues involving other nations. What about protecting 'human interests' or 'the good of all?' I again ask us to consider, if in every personal relationship we made it clear that our priority was 'protecting our own interests' at all costs, how successful would those relationships be?

No one wants to be in relationship with a self absorbed, selfishly motivated person. Not on a personal level and not on a national level. Good relationships are created to serve the needs and best interests of ALL parties involved, not just the richer, stronger and more influencial one.

I think the map on my wall is reflective of a deep attitude of entitlement and superiority that is ingrained in our American culture. It isn't a healthy attitude, but it so pervasive, that many of us have become unaware of it. It creeps in to how we see the world, and the other nations and cultures around the world that are different from our own.

The phrase 'taking care of my own' has always bothered me as well. For me... everyone on the planet is 'one of my own' people. I don't make a distinction between a suffering American child and a suffering Iraqi child. They both matter equally to my heart.

I personally, as a symbol of my willingness to look at the world with a healthier perspective... will replace my world map, with one that makes 'geographic sense' rather than the one I currently have which artificially constructs the world so that I (and my country) are at the center of it!

I hope that it will help me continue to remember that I operate in this world, not for my own interests alone, but for the good of all people everywhere.

No comments: