Jonathan’s girlfriend’s brother had just died and he didn’t know what to say to her to comfort her. The rudimentary ”there, there” might not be appropriate in this case, given how close they are and Jonathan felt a bit handicapped in this area. He couldn’t bring himself to empathize with his grieving girlfriend, but he tried his hardest to lift her spirits. Except that, he should have waited at least 3 weeks before trying to make her laugh.
This prompted a slew of introspective questions in his mind. He couldn’t understand why his grasp on human interaction is so lopsided and centered around himself. The concepts of guilt and grief are as alien to him as are the feelings themselves. Whilst what he feels for his girlfriend has all the traits of romantic love, he wondered why he couldn’t feel her grief and provide his heartfelt support during such a tragic moment in her life.
The words ”nihilist” and ”indifference” were sloshing back and forth in his mind but deep inside, he knew he was none of those things. He has very distinct idea about the type of life he wants to lead and his is not a disaffected way of being. On the contrary, everything reverts back to his very being, his experiences and his opinions. He just cannot comprehend the experiences of other people, no matter how hard he tries.
But he wanted to understand the catalyst of such a jarring hole in his personality. Where did it come from? Is it a pathology to be unable to focus on other people’s emotions and desires? Is he at fault for being so self-centered and inured to other people’s expectations? He tried various channels, to find the answers to his conundrum, including religion. He was not interested in any particular path per se, he just wanted a decisive watershed moment to happen to him, from which he would conclude whether he was indeed debilitated by his coldness, or whether his way of being was just fine, albeit different.
He came across Ayn Rand, a writer and philosopher who expounded on the virtues on selfishness and self-interest. Self-interest doesn’t mean that a person should disregard the well-being of others, simply put, it’s based on individualistic fulfillment. In this era, altruism is touted as the utmost moralistic principle that guides the virtuous human being, without much else being said about it. We just throw around these virtue-signalling words because of how perfectly they align with our norms, thusly providing a sense of security in being normal. It all fell at one swell swoop for Jonathan. He always viewed rectitude as a hokey way of being, a dire attempt at fitting in.
He wondered then, if his way of being would be at loggerheads with everyone else’s, because you see, those are questions that everyone asks themselves from time to time. He concluded that him being the focus, doesn’t remove the focus from anyone else. In fact, he is the sole observer to the vastness of the world and the universe, he is the only person who understands what it is like being him, he has lived through things that are endemic to his consciousness and memory. So, it was a cinch- self interest is the sole motivator in his life and there’s nothing wrong with him.
Surely, he couldn’t understand the underlying emotions that guide people in their lives, he couldn’t emulate others in their humanistic proclivities but he could be himself and allow himself the true gamut of this worldly experience. Suddenly, he didn’t feel hamstrung by his apathy; he felt empowered, emboldened and most importantly, at peace.