A few days ago, one of you–no need to say which–returned from a sleepover to discover that your sisters, your mother, and (yeah, okay) your father had finished off the rest of your leftover birthday cake while you were gone. Understandably miffed, you complained that we had clearly conspired against you, depriving you of an actual opportunity to have your cake and eat it, too.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There was no conspiracy among us, no elaborate design against you, not even any consciousness of taking what was rightfully yours. There was just a chocolate cake, half-eaten and left on the counter where we could see it. And of course the four of us, all drawn to the sinfully sweet, all inclined — given motive, means, and opportunity — to murder the remains of any treat.
We did it, I confess, but we weren’t really guilty. We always murder leftover chocolate around here.
And as you stormed off, feeling slighted, I recognized your mistake, because God knows I’ve made it a thousand times myself.
You were seeing the world as your antagonist — imagining it was actually out to get you, as opposed to just going about its business. You supposed that, in order for you not to get what you wanted, there had to be some kind of diabolical plan against you, an elegant cake-denying scheme rather than just a bunch of snack-sneaking people, chopping off chocolate chunklets every time we walked through the kitchen.
You imagined a definite conflict where there was really just variety of interest. You supposed we were out to get you when we were really just into cake.
And I thought about how much time I’ve likely wasted in my life worrying that people were set against me, when really they were just looking for their own proverbial pieces — of praise, of comfort, of reward, of attention, etc. And I said to myself, “the world is not your antagonist, Steve. It isn’t out to get you, and it isn’t defined in terms of you. It allows you to find your way through it, but it doesn’t owe you any special favors.” Or, for that matter, any chocolate cake.
On the one hand, it’s sort of a sad realization — seeing that you’re not, in fact, the center of the world. On the other hand, it’s pretty liberating, not having the weight of the world to bear–or an elaborate global conspiracy to overcome.
With that in mind, I offered you a peanut-butter cup. And now, these words of advice. Small consolation, I know. But still …
I love you,