“Belly button, belly button, Oh my belly button! Belly button, belly button, I love you! Oh how sad and unhappy I would be, if I looked down, and my belly button I couldn’t see…”
Heather Bishop, children’s performer, The Belly Button Song
Everybody’s got one, unless, like the mythical Adam, you were simply created out of some universal chemistry set’s test tube. Even Macbeth, who was “not of woman born,” still came out of that Caesarian with an umbilical cord attached, and thus … a bellybutton.
If we “belly button gaze” once in a while like the child in Heather Bishop’s song, we are celebrating the wonder of our birth. However, if it becomes an all-consuming love affair gazing at our own belly button, we become Donald Trump. People who think everything is about them are suffering from omphaloskepsis or navel-gazing. The Ancient Greeks had a word for everything! People afflicted with omphaloskepsis are self-absorbed to the point of being narcissistic.
If you meet people who think every compliment should be about them, every success in the world is directly related to them, every slight is directed toward them, every conspiracy theory is meant to dethrone them, and only people who agree with them are right-minded, they can be categorized, politely, as navel gazers.
Now this did not originate with individuals – this is a cultural phenomenon. Every emerging society on Earth thought it was the “belly-button of the world” and the centre of the universe. The Greeks had their omphalos, meaning “navel”, a sacred stone artifact that represented their centre of the world and a conduit to their gods.
The ancient Incas had Cusco, the sacred city that in the Quechua language translated to “the centre of the world.” The Spanish Roman Catholic invaders later translated this to “el Ombligo del Mundo” shortly before they raped, looted and violated Cusco, shattering the Inca culture.
Even in modern science we find the “Golden X“, the geographical “belly button of the world” located in the middle of the Gulf of New Guinea, just south of Ghana and west of Equatorial Guinea. Sailors who “cross the line” into those equatorial waters must pay homage to the gods of the sea or forever be known as “slimy pollywogs” – not cool, especially if you are a pirate.
But my favourite is an expression learned from a wise Polish babcha, who called someone who was too full of themselves a “pepek swiat”. At the time, I had no idea what the translation was but the meaning was clear. Some loud-mouthed, bullying know-it-all would be dominating a social gathering’s conversation, and Babcha would simply look at the person and mutter, “What a pepek swiat!” At first, I thought it must mean “arrogant, ignorant ass” in Polish.
Only later did I learn that pepek swiat translated into “belly button of the world”, a term of derision given to a domineering, self-absorbed narcissist. Babcha had another term for “arrogant ignorant ass.”
So, from Babcha, I learned that the Polish, too, have word for everything: A pepek swiat who is also a “dupa wolowa” [you’ll have to look that one up] can be a real drag on intelligent, respectful communication .
The good news is we don’t have to leave Caledon and travel to Greece or Cusco or Equatorial New Guinea to see a pepek swiat in action. Just visit your local Town Council meetings for prime time viewing. Or watch the upcoming provincial Conservative leadership race in Ontario. Or marvel at federal antics during Question Period. In the midst of meaningful and productive civil discourse, the pepek swiat won’t be hard to miss. Especially when acting like a dupa wolowa.
Skid Crease, Caledon