Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Originally published December 6, 2008 on

I was walking down the street recently and realized that everyone was just aggravating me. I felt as if I didn’t like anybody. People were annoying. Especially people who were different from me or who have different priorities, backgrounds, hobbies, and ways of doing things. Too many dogs on leashes, too much dog waste on the sidewalk, too many strollers blocking my path, too many slow-moving people in front of me. I didn’t feel as if I liked ANYONE.

As I was experiencing this dislike for most of the people around me, I recalled reading a story about a man (Howard Storm) who had a near death experience (NDE), before which he was similarly cranky and unhappy, but additionally treated people in a nasty, condescending, rude and abrupt way. He expressed no belief in afterlife or a deity or any reglious doctrine. During his NDE he initially experienced negative entities who seemed to take pleasure in hurting and lashing out at him as well as pleasure in his anger at them. Ultimately he came to the conclusion for various reasons that he should pray to Jesus, something he was not accustomed to doing. After he did that, his experience changed to a light-filled positive experience that changed his beliefs and outlook on life from that time on. After returning to his body he said that he felt love for everyone he saw because he was shown during the experience that we are all connected and that love was a key element to growth and life enhancement.

So as I walked down the street, I thought of this cranky man waking up from this “scrooge” experience and loving everyone around him (to their discomfort). And I wondered if I could feel love for the people around me and, if not, why not? Why was it that I was so turned off by everyone’s differences from me?

A stronger sense of self-esteem helps fend off a fear of death…

— part of the Terror Management Theory

And I realized on the other hand that there is a theory called Terror Management Theory (TMT) that says that the more mortality salience we have, the more judgmental and territorial oriented we are — with an “us/them” sense of the world. For some reason, this theory says, that a stronger sense of self-esteem (i.e. feeling like “I’m better than you” and “My way is better than your way”) helps fend off a fear of death. I don’t really understand why that would be the conclusion, and I don’t necessarily agree with it, but those who have put forth TMT have done research on these responses by people who are reminded about the reality of death.

It seems to me that this difference in response to mortality salience — being aware of one’s ultimate demise–comes from the way one is reminded of one’s mortality. From a real near-death experience in which one narrowly escapes death versus talk about or reference to death’s reality. I personally have not had an NDE but my awareness of death’s reality is fairly substantial — so perhaps that is why I exhibited the negative response to people???? Who knows. I think it has nothing to do with my mortality salience and more to do with my salience that life is hard and sometimes other people make life harder for me. And sometimes they make it easier. That day, I didn’t find anyone helping to make it easier.

Then you get the Christmas Spirit and holiday generosity — the “feel good” season — giving food to the needy (this one time of the year?) and coats and blankets to the homeless (as if this is the only time to give something and as if that is what and how to give).

But that is another subject altogether…