By Claire Bischoff
How much time do you spend thinking about yourself?
Last week, I spent a lot of time thinking about myself. I was hosting a party, which seemed to require that I worry incessantly about what food to serve and how much, how I would ever get the house cleaned, and most importantly, what I would wear. But while I was busy obsessing about my party and myself, I neglected to return a call from my sister, who had recently moved to New York and was looking to connect with someone from home. Nor did I schedule time to hang out with my brother, who would be moving to Chicago the next week and wanted to see my boys and me before he left.
On some level, this example of my egotism is “normal.” In fact, psychologists have studied human beings’ tendency to focus on ourselves and have given a name to our overestimating how much other people pay attention to us. It is called the spotlight effect, and experiments have been done to prove that other people do not pay as much attention to us as we think they do.* In the end, we are all very busy attending to our own appearances and actions, so much so that we may forget to notice others around us.
The spotlight effect certainly can come in handy when something embarrassing happens. If you trip going down the stairs, chances are very few people will notice, as they are too busy worrying about making their own graceful way down the stairs to notice your stumble. But this spotlight effect also means we can stay locked in ourselves and not notice those around us. If you thoroughly enjoy your experience on the tennis team, you may not realize that others on the team feel left out of the core group. If you feel like the only person who does not fit in at the dance, you may not realize there are other people who feel just as left out as you.
In this week’s Spirit, we read about Bart Johnson and Tom Allen, who befriended the Jumale brothers, immigrants from Somalia who felt out of place in a small town in Minnesota. Bart and Tom could have worried only about themselves, focusing on school and their own running careers. But instead they worried about something besides themselves, to a great end. They made new friends, learned about a different culture, and celebrated great team success in the state cross country meet.
This week’s Gospel is about God’s invitation to all people to attend the great banquet of God’s kingdom. As Jesus’ parable and the story of Bart Johnson and Tom Allen demonstrate, God’s invitation often comes in the form of other people. As we encounter others, we are invited to worry less about ourselves and to focus more on the well-being of others. We are invited to connect with others through what makes us the same as human beings while also respecting and learning about what makes us different.
Karl Rahner, a famous Roman Catholic theologian, notes that in every choice we make, we can open ourselves up to or close ourselves off from God. Every choice we make can be a yes or a no to God’s invitation.
What invitation is God making to you right now? Are you responding yes or no?
*Gilovich, T., Medvec, V., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 (2), 211-222 DOI: 10.1037//0022-35184.108.40.206