learned to be self-aware

I went to the Museum of Broken Relationships alone on a Tuesday afternoon.

I was developing a cold and was in the terrible sore throat and scratchy, swollen head phase. I had an herbal tea from Starbucks because I thought it would help. The only other person there was a khaki-clad, 40-year-old Chinese man.

The receptionist was quiet and excessively polite. She was probably trained to be overly sensitive to single guests. I thought she was so condescending because she looked at me with pity, even though I had chosen to be there on a whim after not finding anything good at a nearby record shop. I was checking a museum off a list of the many museums I wanted to visit. But she thought I was sad.

I see now how she came to that rational conclusion. After all, when I noticed the man there, too, I thought he must be a weirdo. Anyone who goes to the Museum of Broken Relationships alone on a Tuesday afternoon is a weirdo. But not me.

Entity shares a personal story about empathy practice.

image via Giphy

It didn’t occur to me until much later to step outside of myself and see how I must have looked. I easily rationalize my own actions, my own places in life without considering any other alternatives. 

Obviously I was at the museum because I like museums, not because I had heartbreak of my own. It’s so apparent. But I was so quick to see the woman as judgmental or the man as pathetic, that I hadn’t stopped to rationalize their stories, their reasons for reacting the way they did or being where they were.

I didn’t empathize or reconsider until it was too late. I’m sure they didn’t either. I was just the sad, sick girl at the museum to them. She was so pathetic after a breakup that she had to rush to the Museum of Broken Relationships instead of resting in bed. How dismal.

What does it matter? Everyone makes snap judgments about everything and most of the time it’s harmless, passing internal monologue stuff.

Maybe it’s nothing, but maybe it’ll turn into something. Maybe all of a sudden you’ll think you know everyone’s stories and you’ve figured out the world. 

You’ll become so egocentric you’ll start to only see people as supporting characters or extras in the story of your life.

I’ll become so egocentric.

Is there a solution to our selfish mentalities? Can we stop ourselves from judging others while justifying what we do?

It’s important to look at things objectively: all things, whether it be an introverted outing, a family dinner, an argument with a friend, a date, a train ride, anything. In every situation, I like to take a moment to step outside of myself and my feelings. Distance myself from my own bias and insiderness.

Then I evaluate the moment. Am I acting rationally? Are others acting rationally? Is this significant? Is this kind? Will I be proud of this interaction, this objective moment, in the future?

It’s a simple practice, but it’s gotten me in the habit of checking myself, that I’m not trapped in the mirage of being the only human on the planet who matters. I can better see myself as a ridiculous person and redirect my attention to something more important.

If I had distanced myself to look objectively at every blind argument I’ve ever been in, I would be able to see whether or not I was being sensible and acting with proper intentions. It would make me less accusatory.

If I had distanced myself to look objectively at every stopped patch of traffic I’ve ever been in, I would be able to see that I’m just another car on the road, too. They’re not in my way, I’m not in theirs, we’re all just waiting to merge, exit, drive — individually, together. It would make me less stressed.

If I understood that, detached from myself, I looked like a sad, sniffly, loner at the Museum of Broken Relationships that Tuesday afternoon, I wouldn’t be so offended that the receptionist reacted with condolences.

I would see that the khaki-clad, 40-year-old Chinese man wasn’t a weirdo. Probably. And if he was, I was, too, because we were both there alone, together. It would make me less delusional.

Because in this individualistic culture we’re surrounded by, it couldn’t hurt to be a little more self-aware.

Edited by Kayla Caldwell

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