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viewpoint

Our Paths are Parallel

| Monday, February 9, 2015

There are countless jokes and witty indie writer observations about people on planes. Why is it that when you put humans together on an airplane it becomes a pressure cooker for observing bare human character?

As I sit and feel the knees of the kid behind me nudging into my back, I look at the people surrounding me. People-watching is a habit of mine — airplanes, airports and crowded subways are some of the most interesting places in the world to me.

One could say that those places are interesting because of the vast diversity of humanity they contain, but it would be both conceited and completely inaccurate of me to pretend I can look upon strangers and see real people in them, that I could stand in a crowded room and recognize the room holds an astounding and awe-inspiring archive of histories, experiences, fears and motivations.

The truth is, being in a crowd of strangers teaches me more about myself and the way I see the world than it does about the people I’m observing.

When I look at people on a plane, I see them as one-dimensional stereotypes — the disgruntled businessman, the overeager tourist or the tired mother with her child. But I would never see myself as a bored, listless teenager or whatever stereotype onlookers might pin to me. I perceive others as something condescendingly lower than me, meaning I am aware of my own emotions and experiences yet cannot perceive that in others and see them as depthless.

My conclusion to all of this is that life consists of nothing more than constant monologues playing inside of our heads. We see the world through the lens of our own egocentrism and in this dehumanize everyone but ourselves. Everything we see, everything we experience belongs to the narrative of our own continuous story.

It’s an idea I’ve struggled to grasp — that to everyone else I’m the depthless one. That the people on the train don’t automatically understand that I’m slumped over and tired because I spent all last night studying, that I spent all last night studying because I’m desperate to get a certain GPA and get a certain internship and that that internship is so important because to be a writer is all I’ve ever wanted. All they see is another blasé teenage girl who could care less — when I couldn’t care more.

As humans, we are only ever aware of ourselves. We walk through our days, crossing paths with hundreds of others. Yet our paths are parallel. I try every single day to escape the natural egocentrism that dehumanizes people around me and neglects to remind me that to others, I’m equally insignificant. It’s only when I remain conscious of the human in every stranger on the street that I’ll be able to make our parallel paths cross.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Andrea Vale

Andrea Vale is a freshman at Notre Dame who has previously written for both the Sun Chronicle and the Huffington Post. She plans to major in English with a Creative Writing concentration and a minor in Journalism.

Contact Andrea