Remember Narcissus? In Greek mythology, he fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water, and died when he found he couldn’t grasp it.
In the course of looking for trends in naming children (my last blog), I came upon the book “The Narcissism Epidemic, Living in the Age of Entitlement.” Contemporary narcissists, according to the psychologist authors, are everywhere, from the operating rooms of plastic surgeons, to birthday parties that involve chauffeuring seven-year-olds to spa makeovers.
In case you were wondering, you can now hire fake paparazzi to follow you around and take your picture.
Below are some of the reasons the authors argue that our culture is becoming “all-about-me,” and less about community.
*More and more women — and men — are undergoing cosmetic surgeries so they can “look better than others or look younger…The number of plastic surgeons has tripled since the mid-1970’s while the number of physicians has doubled.” Apparently you need Botox treatments before you can upload your image to hotornot.com and have it rated by strangers.
*Many more opportunities exist for personalized products, such as tee shirts emblazoned with your own photo, Elmo CD’s in which Elmo sings your name, and M&M’s with your photo and name printed on each candy. Yesterday I saw bottles of Coke in the grocery store labeled with different first names.
*Personal You Tube videos are ubiquitous, many produced with the hopes of achieving fame. Example: By 2007, “264,244 people had viewed a video of someone singing the phone book”…and by 2008, “210,353 had watched a video with the…title, ‘My Love Secrets to Seduce Me.'”
Based on survey responses, college age students seem to understand that they are narcissistic and believe this is important for their future success. However, the authors shared studies of students and employers, which showed that school achievement and work success normally belong to those who focus on others as much as they do on themselves. Lawyers specializing in divorce work should spend time with narcissists, since the latter rarely keep up long-term relationships.
What’s the antidote to a culture obsessed with fame and wealth? The writers have much advice for parents, teachers, TV programmers and advertisers, too much to repeat here. They also reported on one group of researchers that identified “humility, self-compassion, and mindfulness” as ways to combat the “noisy ego,” (another way to describe narcissism), but warned that many would brush these off as old-fashioned.
For those of us who are more observers of this culture than participants, we can always change the mantra of the sixties — “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” — to Turn off (the TV), Tune in (to others) and Drop in (to our communities and the life taking place around us).
Regrettably, narcissism isn’t only a quality of youth. The older I get the more I think I’d like a chin lift, nose job and tummy tuck.
I’m lucky to work with teenagers who are all about others, and growing up in a world demonstrably more challenging than the one I grew up in. One of our young students spent this week at hospital with a friend who tried to commit suicide, something I could not have imagined when I was eighteen. I also remember those girls in my high school — back in the 50’s — who were all about their expensive mohair sweaters and gold pins. The world just keeps going round and round, and I don’t think any generation has a bigger edge on empathy or caring. What doesn’t seem to change is the culture’s desire to find indicators that young people — or this generation — or this particular culture — or that ethnic group — are going to hell in a handbasket. That’s been going on for thousands of years (see Plato . . .). It would be interesting to learn (supposing we could still be around) what this younger generation will find shocking about teens when they are in their old age.
The argument is more complicated than teen-bashing. When we grew up, we didn’t have as many opportunities to peek into the homes and lifestyles of the rich and famous via our TV sets, follow the Kardashians everywhere they go, post intimate details and photos about ourselves on MySpace, and our parents didn’t praise us for everything we did. The argument is that narcissism has become a stronger cultural value and, therefore, young people are more vulnerable to it. It’s also not limited to the young. Donald Trump is a perfect example of that.
I heard David Brooks speak and I am reading his book on this subject..interesting..he may go to far the other way but interesting. Sandra Wallace
Tell me more after you finish reading.