The human mind can’t cope with things that are too large, or important, or portentous. There comes a point where your brain goes “right, that’s it, I can’t cope. I need to bring this thing that’s overwhelming me down to size”.
And that’s when we start making light of serious things, usually resulting in us feeling a bit bad about trivialising important matters.
But, really, we shouldn’t feel bad. Levity and triviality is a coping mechanism. If we treated all weighty matters with continual seriousness, then I think we would rapidly go bonkers.
And I’m not just talking about the dark humour that surfaces remarkably quickly during times of crisis. Those “unworthy thoughts” that we are all prey to are just as much a way of helping us deal with it as the memes doing the rounds on social media.
Feeling a bit peeved because you can’t do something that you enjoy doesn’t make you a bad person, just because others have been affected much more badly than you. Unless you start demanding that your problems be solved ahead of those more in need. Then you’re just an arsehole.
I mean, I’m sitting here fully aware that thousands of people have died and are going to die over the next few months. And yet, I’m really pissed off that I can’t take my dog out for a walk and visit my favourite cafes — something I’ve been doing almost every day for the last three years or so.
And it’s important to me: we both get some regular exercise, I get a cup of coffee half-way round and the dog gets biscuits and big fuss from the cafe staff. Win-win-win.
And, no, it doesn’t matter. It is of utmost triviality to everyone except me (and the cafe staff who look forward to making a fuss of the dog, and they have more pressing problems, such as no job for the next few weeks). But that’s my point: you can’t be 100% altruistic. It’s probably not healthy to even try. Everyone needs a bit of time to be selfish — to wallow in your own misfortune. That’s normal, it helps us cope with the enormity of the situation. Relieve the crushing weight of the world’s problems by concentrating for a while on the ones that affect just you.
It only becomes a problem when those moments of selfishness become more than fleeting, when they start to define who you are. The self-obsession starts to grow. You ignore the concerns of others and you start to ignore the opinions of others, even when those others are experts in the field. You become the expert on everything. In its extreme, you measure all events by how they affect you alone, all setbacks or disagreements become personal attacks targetting you, specifically. Paranoia beckons. Relationships are measured by how loyal others are to you, disloyalty becomes a punishable offence.
And then you become President of the United States.