–Robert Burns “To a Louse”
My first year in college, my dorm was across from a tree-lined street where I’d walk to church on Sunday mornings.
One spring morning, I was sitting in a pew when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back expecting to see a friend or someone I knew from my dorm or a class. But it was a total stranger.
“Excuse me,” she said. “But you have a worm in your hair.”
I’m pretty sure I thought I looked nice in my Sunday clothes to that point. But once you hear that you have a worm in your hair, all your attention is centered on that. And hoping that there aren’t more.
So I’ve sympathy for the character in Burns’s poem because I’ve lived it, although I’m happy it was a worm that had fallen out of a tree, not a louse.
We live in a culture where we are advised to ignore what others think and go off on our paths like Thoreau at Walden. And we can be too focused on how others see us. More than once, I’ve left a dinner or a meeting thinking that everyone must think me a total idiot. When I’ve later asked people, it was clear that they didn’t think me an idiot; in fact, they didn’t think about me at all. A good lesson learned.
But there’s a problem with ignoring how others view us; it isolates us from knowing some of the very things that keep us from being successful.
We all know people like this:
- Those who go on their soap boxes about a favorite topic and don’t notice how desperate their listeners are to escape.
- People who claim that they would be happy if they only had a better boss, colleagues, spouse, job, etc. But those external elements have changed (some of them multiple times), and they are still complaining. When others try to tell them that they have the power to make some changes themselves, they immediately shut down the conversation with a ‘you don’t understand’ or ‘my case is different.’
When we seem to be battling the same troubles over and over, it might be a good idea to get outside of our own heads and look at how an outsider would view the situation.
And if someone takes the time to tell us that we have a worm in our hair (physical or metaphorical), then we need to take the time to get it out of there.