The rampant taking and posting of “selfies” and the extensive sharing of personal information on Facebook are two of the best examples of what has become a national obsession with ourselves. We have become a nation of people in love with ourselves, one in which narcissism is on the rise among our young people, with one study by Twenge, Campbell, and Gentile finding that there has been a 30% slant toward narcissistic attitudes among students in the United States and 1 in 4 respondents on a national survey identifying themselves as narcissistic. What is narcissism? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “excessive self-love or vanity; self-admiration, self-centeredness.”
Some folks say this this is the result of the self-esteem culture that has been so pervasive in the past few decades, and that self-confidence, believing in yourself, and loving oneself leads to success and improved lives. But the reality, according to numerous research studies is that the effect it has is actually quite small. All of the self-help books and focus on bettering yourself may in fact have had more negative consequences than positive ones.
Another factor is that for a couple of generations, children have been raised to believe that they are someone special, which in the end often distorts the reality that they end up living and a false sense of who they are. According to professionals, self-love is incomplete and immature as a solo attribute, and self-love without empathy is lopsided and leads to both arrogance and misery. The “Hey! Look at me!” mentality of selfies and Facebook posts are cries for attention that are surface level pleas for attention. Once they figure out that people do not really care about that, people may go to greater extremes to get that attention, or go in another direction and struggle with a lack of personal fulfillment.
In many ways this focus on ourselves has manifested itself in the actions of people where one has to question whether or not we truly care about other people in our country. One can look at different groups who have had political influence and see their motives as examples of self-interest at the expense of the greater good. Policies favoring big business and individuals over social welfare seem more common. Look at Nebraska where two recently elected Senators voted for the Keystone pipeline despite overwhelming opposition by the citizens of the state. Both Senators accepted huge donations from the Koch brothers to advance their business concerns. For generations many people have given of themselves for the greater good of a community, yet today in many places there is not sense of community. People live in a town but do not engage in any meaningful way, choosing to do their own thing.
This obviously does not apply to all, and we do see quite a few kids that are not “caught up in themselves” or as I like to say, “staring in their own soap opera!” The reality is that while we celebrate successful people, more often than not, that success is dependent on other people. Perhaps rather than focusing on the selfie, we need to be collecting those pictures of others who help us be the people we need to be. Maybe we shouldn’t be so caught up on wanting people to know what we do every day, and rather get to know others better so we can work together to better the lives of all.