I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I love Douglas Adams. If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, I would highly recommend it. It’s fantastic.
The story begins with a man named Ford Prefect rescuing his friend, Arthur Dent, from a doomed Earth. As it turns out, the Vogons, a rather unpleasant race of aliens, intended to demolish it to make way for an intergalactic bypass. Ford and Arthur are picked up by a spaceship called the Heart of God. They go on to have myriad adventures as they explore the galaxy.
On one such adventure, Ford and Arthur mistakenly go too far back in time and find themselves, once again, on Earth (before it was destroyed) at a cricket match. Arthur is beside himself with joy at being back on his home planet and Ford, who wasn’t actually from the Earth, is behaving quite oddly.
“He was waving his hands in sharp movements across his face, ducking down behind some people, leaping up behind others, then standing still and blinking a lot…
’Something’s on your mind, isn’t it?’ said Arthur.
’I think,’ said Ford… ‘that there’s an S.E.P. over there.’
He pointed. Curiously enough, the direction he pointed in was not the one in which he was looking.”
Arthur inquires as to what, exactly, an S.E.P is.
“’Somebody Else’s Problem,’ said Ford… ‘An S.E.P… is something that we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem… The brain just edits it out; it’s like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye.’”
The S.E.P. turns out to be a spaceship belonging to a man named Slartibartfast, but, if you want to know who he is and why he landed his spaceship at a cricket match, you’ll just have to get the book and read it for yourself.
It is the concept of an S.E.P. that I find so fascinating.
Ford, at least, understood that his brain was editing out the S.E.P.s and, so, knew to look for them. Arthur, on the other hand, had no clue that there might be more to the world than what his brain was processing.
I’m, too often, more like Arthur than I am Ford.
I’m unaware that I’m unaware. I miss so much that is right before me because I’m not looking for it. I miss opportunities to listen, to serve, to give, to love.
Those opportunities are just "somebody else’s problem."
Here’s the problem with S.E.P.s. If we are all editing them out, then “somebody else’s problem” becomes “nobody’s problem.”
It doesn’t take jumping around and waving our arms and blinking a lot to see our S.E.P.s.
It just takes paying attention to what’s right in front of us.
Let’s pay attention.