Imagining other people’s lives

May 2, 2007

On my way to an interesting event this morning, an exhibition of African artifacts and a talk by a lady from CIDA, I fell off my bike and bruised / sprained my ankle, so that I had to sit at the back of the hall for three hours and failed to catch most of what was being said. In any case I wasn’t able to take much interest in the proceedings because of my anxiety about my injury and the distraction of the pain. It just goes to show that self-centredness is hard to combat when we’re in any kind of trouble, however insignificant in the general scheme of things, and the longer trouble lasts, I suppose the more self-absorbed we tend to become. Chronically sick people shouldn’t be blamed for their self-absorption, according to my sister-in-law, a receptionist at a medical clinic, because there is typically little room left in their heads to imagine what other people might be suffering because of them.

On the other hand, with my German-speaking friends, I went to see a really powerful film last week (that German one that won the Oscar) about the Stasi, East Berlin’s secret police in the communist era: Das Leben der Anderen. That situation was just the opposite of self-absorption. The watcher becomes so engrossed in the life of the man he was spying on that he begins to think like that man, and becomes a better human being because of it.

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