I am not the center of the universe.


Call it an epiphany.

Did you ever have an experience in the course of life, at a particular moment on a particular day — something seemingly inconsequential — that permanently altered your fundamental outlook on life?

This happened to me once.

It is funny how such moments of extraordinary perception and insight come about.

The sudden realization I had was something obvious which could be expressed as follows: The world doesn’t revolve around me.

Of course, I already knew that. I was not that self-centered. But, the epiphany inducing incident, which occurred when I was in middle age, blew away the last vestiges of adolescent style self-absorption.



I had just completed graduate school and was hired by a consulting firm as a technical writer. I was about to begin my first day of work.

The head of my department, Jack Barrett, called me to finalize arrangements. I asked if I could report on March 15, which was a couple of days away. Would that be all right?

“Certainly,” he said.

I was looking forward to the new position, but at the same time I was kind of rueful because I had been getting, all of a sudden, some very interesting freelance writing assignments of which I was proud. I said to Barrett: “Today, I will be working on the City Desk at Newsday. I have been asked to work there a lot lately.” Something like that.

“Hmm,” he said, and quickly moved on to discussing a couple of details of my employment. He could have cared less about the freelance work I was doing. He was a busy man running a department. He had called me merely to finalize arrangements. We had already discussed my qualifications and accomplishments in the interview, based upon which I had been hired. That was a fait accompli.

Why should I have thought he would be interested in the details of my freelance work, I saw, to my chagrin.

It hit me square in the face: Most people are engrossed in their own responsibilities and daily activities. They don’t have time to focus on mine, nor would they be likely to be all that interested. Perhaps my wife would. But that’s different. One should not assume that people one meets in public, so to speak, are that interested in or focused upon you. When interacting with them, one should always keep in mind: it’s about THEIR priorities, not yours. For the moment, that is. Or, to put it another way (awkwardly), in the present actuality. This does not mean self-abnegation is required. It’s simply a matter of always keeping the thought uppermost in one’s mind: what is the other person likely to be thinking? where are they coming from? what do they need or require?



My father told me a story once which, I think, illustrates the same point, though perhaps not obviously. He said that as a young man he had a tendency to try to impress people. Once, he said, he was at a party and somebody or other was talking about a new model car that was supposed to be THE car to own, a vehicle one would be proud to be seen driving. My father put his two cents worth in and started talking about that car and how great it was, and how he knew all about it. The man who had introduced the car as a topic of conservation looked askance at my father and said, “You own one?”

“No, I don’t,” my father had to admit.

My Dad said that the realization came upon him that he was always talking as if he were entitled to be an authority on this or that — to weigh in — or that he was in on something, to impress people. The other man’s comment made him see this, to his chagrin, but for him it was a valuable lesson.



People are preoccupied with themselves and their concerns, whatever they are doing and thinking about at the moment; what concerns them; what they are or must be dealing with. I am of scant interest to them and if one manages to engage another’s interest, it is only transitory.


— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

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