I recently encountered a pervasive condition that even I have suffered from at times. The reality is that the disease was always there — I just didn’t have a name for it.
So here is the scene: I am at the airport, normal day, waiting in line to get on the plane. We are all in our designated categories waiting patiently to board. The horn sounds, the flight attendant starts the boarding process and we all start the slow move to the jet bridge like a pack of lemmings.
And then it happens.
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A middle-aged couple barrels through the line, as if a line didn’t exist, practically stampeding the travelers who had been patiently waiting and queuing up appropriately. I watched and listened as a fellow business traveler politely said to the couple steamrolling forward, “Folks, we are all waiting in the same line” — to which no change or slow down occurred.
To make matters worse, the couple never even acknowledged the sound of another person’s voice or even considered the possibility it may have been directed toward them. My fellow traveler tried to get the couple’s attention once again, only this time, he used a more forceful tone — “Folks, we have all been waiting and are going to the same destination.” Again, no response from the couple in any way, not even the slightest shuffle of step or pause; in fact, the couple seemed to be moving faster and with more intensity now. Finally, a second person pipes up. She, however, was much less entertained and far more direct, “Um, people? You are cutting the line. We have been waiting here too.”
At this point, I laugh out loud watching the spectacle. My frustration gave way to humor, as I have seen this scenario play out a thousand times in so many different forms. I say aloud to my two brothers-in-travel combat arms, “Wow, it’s like they are the only people in the world,” to which one responds, “Yeah, it’s a disease.”
I have finally been able to diagnose the affliction that I have witnessed so many times — the “Only Person in the World” disease. The symptoms can be slight or overt. The cause? Being so caught up in your own actions or ideas that you have no regard or fail to acknowledge anyone else’s existence. The “patient” may pass off the act as heavy-duty concentration, but it’s really oblivion to both those around us and repercussion from our actions. We all have struggled with the disease at times — that complete unawareness of others or how our actions affect them. Even the most thoughtful people fall prey to the “Only Person in the World” disease at times.
So how do we “treat” the disease often found in the workplace and our personal lives?
First, you must realize you cannot treat someone else. You can only concentrate and control the disease you have, which requires realization and awareness. Pay attention and realize that whatever you are doing may be the most important thing in your world, but it’s not the most important thing in the entire world.
The cure? Courteousness and forgiveness. Consider how your actions — what you do, what you say, how you act — impact those around you. You can change an outcome by changing the words you choose to use. If you opt to make the situation about yourself, take a beat and imagine yourself on the receiving end of that behavior. I sense that obliviousness to your surroundings would magically disappear, and courtesy would replace the “disease.”
As for the couple who sparked the “Only Person in the World” discussion, they ended up sitting right behind me where they proceeded to carry on a loud conversation for all to hear — for the entire four-hour flight. Even worse, – they discovered a friend whom they had not seen in years. Evidently, the illness reared its head once more as the three bellowed about all their ailments and back problems for the entire plane to “enjoy.”
If we all took those considerations into account each day (for some of us even just to start doing it), we would all make our world and our environment a better place.