No, You're Not Above Reproach
By Raymond Shipley
It seems to happen every other day. Whether at the grocery store or picking up the kids from school, someone takes the liberty of cutting in line while acting oblivious to both the line's existence and the individuals that made up the line. Such obviously rude behavior seems to be utterly lost on the perpetrator, or perhaps they are well aware and simply do not care. What gives?
Every individual is self-centered to a degree. We see the world through our own eyes, and empathy is a trait developed through experience and understanding. Empathy takes effort whereas egocentrism is innate. Children younger than 8 years old have been found to have a surprisingly difficult time attempting to cognitively take the perspective of another person. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget observed this, and it is egocentrism, in fact, that makes a child easy to beat at a two-person perspective game, such as checkers. The child simply cannot imagine what the board looks like to their opponent, and as a result makes mistakes caused by their assumption both players are seeing the same thing.
Although adults eventually outgrow this stage of cognitive development, even they often find it difficult to take the perspective of another. Rare is the individual able to teach another how to do something that comes naturally to themselves. Likewise, another form of egocentrism found in adolescents and immature adults, is the "imaginary audience." Child psychologist David Elkind coined this term in reference to a person's tendency to envision how friends would react to their actions and thoughts. Today, with the advent of social media, mediums such as twitter and youtube are likely reinforcing this type of egocentrism. The idea that everyone is always watching us should resonate with most; however, as Ann Landers once remarked, "At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don't care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven't been thinking of us at all."
One form of egocentrism observed quite frequently is that in which the egocentrism is committed by two or more people who have shared the same experiences, views or language. Often this form of egocentrism is intended as a slight to someone seen as an outsider, although it is also often simply because those involved do not think about the outsider's perspective.
Egocentrism can be easily identified and remedied; however, narcissism is a much more complex and problematic form. Not being able to see another's perspective is egocentrism, while seeing it and not caring is narcissism. Unfortunately, it is the enabling of egocentrism, such as acquiescence to the use of a foreign language in the presence of a guest or host who does not speak it, or line cutting that goes ignored, that often leads to entitled narcissism. This subgroup of narcissists become exploitative and manipulate others to get their way.
Once a person engages in the behavioral pattern of narcissism through reinforcement, their self-esteem becomes more dependent on having the spotlight. They tend to crave attention in dissension and cause needless strife everywhere they go. Insisting on special treatment, they treat outsiders as beneath them, and even friends and family become seen as gifted with their presence.
So, is it egocentrism or narcissism that causes these people to act so rude? In the end, it hardly matters. What does matter is that such behavior should not be tolerated and perpetuated to the next generations. The next time someone cuts in line, engages in argument for the sake of the spotlight or speaks in another language to exclude guest or host, speak up and let them know this is not to be tolerated. It is experience that breeds empathy, so it is perhaps time the egocentrics and narcissists experience they are not the center of the universe.