Now, this doesn't mean that the egocentric universe is totally lacking in empathy. Most people don't like to see their friends or loved ones (or anyone, usually) in distress. But they don't like this because it causes them personal stress/anguish/whatever. John Donne said "Any man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind." I agree with that, though I'd like to point out that *my* death would diminish me a good deal more than anyone else's. In any case I think that Donne's statement expresses pretty well how empathy fits into egocentrism."
Funny thing, my viewpoint tends to agree with this. People are the centre of their own universe, even if only because all of their sensory data comes in through their brain, which interprets it in ways that are governed by their own cellular chemistry and conditioning. You can't actually see things through someone else's eyes, you can only imagine what it looks like for them. The ability to do that to a greater or lesser degree is what I call empathy. In the greater degree, one 'feels' what the other person's feeling, and people who do this tend to pick up the moods of others and go through them themselves - almost the antithesis of being self-centred because the feelings of others affect them more than their own do. At the other end of the scale we have the person who completely fails to even consider that the other person may have feelings and viewpoints that differ from their own, or that their behaviour may affect the other person's wellbeing. I think of that as obliviousness - being so self-centred that nothing outside oneself even registers.
Most people fall between those two extremes somewhere, thankfully. I think being at either end of that particular scale wouldn't be a very nice place to be. I guess in the middle would be good, where you're self-centred enough to look after your own needs and emotions, but are still able to understand and accept those of others.
Someone gave me an example of that this morning - Sylvester Stallone, when confronted with an angry person, would wave it away, saying "Oh, they probably just ate some bad clams or something." Now, this is a very laidback, easygoing attitude that forgives the other person for their negative emotions and leaves Sly immune to the effect of them.
And that would be fine if the other person actually was transferring emotion onto him, or was just having a reaction to something minor that was nothing to do with Sly. However, if Sly had just ripped the person's left arm off five minutes ago, then his attitude is cavalier and dismissive and avoids taking any responsibility for his own role in how the other person is feeling. Basically, he's oblivious (be it deliberate or unconscious). He doesn't care, and is thus keeping himself safe from any negative emotion directed at him regardless of whether he's the cause of it or not. He's happy, nothing else matters.
Happy as a clam, in fact. And herein lies the rub (no I'm not in the habit of rubbing shellfish). Are clams happy because they're impervious? They have this outer shell that repels invasion from outside sources, so they are safe from the influence of the outside world - oblivous, if you will (since the protective shell doesn't allow them to see out either).
The thing is, often the people who seem the happiest are also unaffected by others, and oblivious to the effect they have on others. And the people who are very affected by others and aware of their own effect, seem to be the most unhappy. Again with finding the balance. And the possibility that 'Unhappy as a Jellyfish" should possibly become a saying.
All this rambling is leading me to a question, not an answer. *sigh* Does being self-centred lead to happiness? Concentrating on one's own thoughts, feelings, emotions.. one's own Stuff to the exclusion of others'? Certainly the self-help books seem to say so. But something inside me is saying "There has to be a balance. It can't be all one way." Yet, I'm completely failing to see a logical reason why it's not ok to be completely focused on one's own wellbeing and impervious or oblivious to that of others.
Don't worry, I'm going with my gut on this, but I'd love to be filled in on why my gut is saying "Affecting others, caring about them and allowing them to affect and care about you is just as important as looking after yourself."
And then the other question: Has any scientific research been done on the happiness of clams?