As A millennial, I think I am the shit. Because, duh, I am. And I’ve been told that my whole life. But maybe this is a really bad thing.
Maybe the high self-esteem we have all cultivated is detrimental to the ways in which we communicate with each other.
Maybe we spend too much time looking at our bodies and neglecting our brains.
Maybe we blow our accomplishments out of proportion and stifle those of our peers.
Maybe we get offended so easily because we hold ourselves such high regard, that any mistake or failure of observation on another parties part becomes an insult.
Maybe we wouldn’t have a spray tanned idiot as our president if we were less narcissistic of a culture.
In his book “The Road to Character,” author David Brooks illustrates that this egotism has been growing consistently for a long time.
“Between 1948 and 1954 psychologists asked more than 10,000 adolescents whether they considered themselves to be a very important person. At that point, 12 percent said yes. The same question was revisited in 1989, and this time it wasn’t 12 percent who considered themselves very important, it was 80 percent of boys and 77 percent of girls.”
Imagine asking that question now. I would be shocked if two out of ten adolescents answered that they did not consider themselves very important. I bet their parents would take them to counseling if they heard those words come out of their child’s mouth, for fear of low self esteem.
Brooks goes on to say that,
“The median narcissism score has risen 30 percent in the last two decades. Ninety-three percent of young people score higher than the middle score just twenty years ago.”
This got me thinking about the way in which narcissism is viewed by our culture. Before we go any further, I want to define the term and give some examples, just so we are clear.
“Narcissism — excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.
Synonyms: vanity, conceit, egotism
In Psychology — Extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.”
Then I saw this chart under the definition which shows the prevalence of the term throughout history.
Thanks for the comfort Google.
I also saw a post on Facebook about President Trump. In the comments, there was an image of a textbook posted with a list of examples of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Here are the ones I found most relevant.
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love.
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people.
- Has a sense of entitlement.
- Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
Do any of those descriptions bring people you know to mind? Good, They do for me too, and they do that because we live in a culture that promotes self-expression and by default, cultivates narcissism.
This reminds me of a quote from the book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe.
“I went to see the Beatles last month… And I heard 20,000 girls screaming together at the Beatles… and I couldn’t hear what they were screaming, either… But you don’t have to… They’re screaming Me! Me! Me! Me!… I’m Me!… That’s the cry of the ego, and that’s the cry of this rally!… Me! Me! Me! Me!… And that’s why wars get fought… ego… because enough people want to scream Pay attention to Me… Yep, you’re playing their game…”
That book was written in 1968. So this trend has been around for a while. Long enough to get noticed, long enough to produce a demagogue like Donald Trump.
But, what is really disturbing about this trend. What we all should really worry about, is how social media plays a role in this. We should care about it because future generations will grow up already immersed in this sphere. To say otherwise is to be a luddite, and we can’t make a better future by acting like that.
The problems with social media are systemic.
In his book “Ego Is the Enemy,” Ryan Holiday lays out the problem with social media.
“Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more ‘Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.’ It’s rarely the truth.”
You have all done it. We take a picture and edit it just right and then post it on Insta and marvel at how important we are when all of our friends like the picture so we will keep liking their pictures. Its fake.
But we do things like that because we want to show others how important we are. It feeds our collective narcissism. It feeds the very problems we have in our society.
Do you think that the Berkeley students rioted about Milo Yiannopoulos because they felt that they were too important to have him as a speaker? I would bet that they did. (For the record I am not a fan of him, but I am highly disturbed by the de-platforming of speakers) I would bet that many of the problems we have with the Regressive Left are a result of the members of that side of the political spectrum being narcissistic and thinking that they are more important than debate and discussion of ideas. If you think that you are the most important person/group in the world, why would you converse with people you see as below you? This harkens back to the textbook page, an individual or group that, “believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high status people.” Sounds like the rioters to me.
This is an issue I do not see getting better any time soon. And I wish I could tell you how to solve this. I wish I had an infographic or a canned “5 Steps” article to help with this. But I don’t. I really do not know what will make this any better.
The only thing I can think that will help is this quote…
So for my new model of anti-narcissisim, I am calling you to do something that humbles you.
Admit that you made a mistake.
Let someone else go in line ahead of you.
This is not a comprehensive list, and I am by no means an expert on how to be humble. But it is a start, and it is something to think about as we continue into the 21st century.
If you like this content, feel free to share it. You can also engage with me on Twitter @paulrhobus, or email me at email@example.com.