It is no uncertain fact that our modern generation is bleeding heart activists for, and human embodiments of, all virtues relating to “independence”, “self-improvement”, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment. The platform of The Millennials (Otherwise known as “Generation Me”) is founded on such ideals as ” you must love yourself before you can love another”, “be happy with yourself above all else”, “don’t mind what others think”, “follow your dreams”, and most importantly, a philosophy imparted by modern icon Steve Jobs himself during a Stanford University Speech, ““Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”
In simpler terms: You know best, to hell with the rest.
Each of the philosophies above has legitimacy to be sure- one should certainly love who they are, strive to be happy, follow their dreams and seek their goals, and listen to their own intuition (in certain matters) even if it results in discouragement or judgment from others.
HOWEVER, while this prevailing fixation with fulfilling the self can yield positive outcomes, at what point does this mentality cross the line? At what point does self-righteousness and soaring self- esteem mutate into what has today become a cancer within the heads and hearts of our generation. At what point does the unconditional goal of self-interest and primacy of the individual lead to the formation of a society full of narcissists?
Narcissism, in a nutshell, can be defined as an egotistical preoccupation with the self and one’s own needs, desires and successes. Narcissists are so absorbed in their own self that they cannot empathize with others or see from multiple points of view. They believe themselves superior to others, pride themselves on having “strong” personalities (despite the often anti-social way this personality manifests), and feel entitled to happiness and success, all due to their unwavering conviction that they are special, important, and capable of anything ( regardless of empirical realities). In other words, narcissism is self-esteem on crack; a delusion. It is an individual’s self-affirming and invincible belief that he/she is special and superior and that anyone/anything that challenges that belief is inconsequential-because remember? In accordance with the doctrine of Generation Me, the opinions and judgment of others don’t matter.
The epidemic of narcissim we are facing today is so profound, and so common, that psychologists have deemed this condition an actual personality disorder. It is indisputable that the mentality of narcissism, which has spawned from an era of Millennials raised with fragile egos and illusions of self-importance, is extremely dangerous to the future of society and the individuals it afflicts.
What I think has gone wrong with our modern attitude is that we have warped the notion of what self-esteem is. Self- esteem should be an outcome of one’s achievement, good character, and hard work- not something one is unconditionally pumped with from parents, schools, or media propaganda. It is an outcome of success, not a cause for it. As a result of self- esteem and self-love propaganda saturating children’s books, magazines, and television ads from sports to cereal, we have become infected with the delirium that we are awesome, unique, special, and a complete army of one, and as long as we believe that unconditionally, we will be happy and successful. And ONLY after we solidify this profound love for our self, can we think about caring for others.
My personal opinion? This mindset I’ve described above is ignorant, conceited, and ruinous to the individual, and eventually the society to which he/she belongs. Here are some reasons:
- Unconditional or undeserved validation is harmful to the individual, because it cheapens the praise and intrinsic satisfaction EARNED when one truly achieves something great. It’s the modern issue of the boy who cried wolf. It’s the parent who cried “you’re the best!” The teacher who cried, “A’s for everyone!” What about when you truly do hit a home run? You’re going to get the same feedback as you did the time you didn’t try or struck out.
- Inflated self-esteem is harmful to the individual because it teaches us that happiness and self-worth are staked on one’s unquestioning belief in a cereal-box slogan, or a fortune cookie prophesy ( “You’re special the way you are!” “You will achieve great things and win the admiration of others!”) rather than the result of doing something truly special, or earning that reputation through actual merit. In reality, excessive self-esteem can actually hinder ones motivation to achieve. After all, for better or for worse, human beings are motivated by a healthy degree of external pressure and stress. Sometimes we only act out of necessity, or even civic duty- take that necessity away, that urgency to really and truly earn our successes and good rapport, and the good deed goes along with it.
- Disregarding the opinions of others, or denying they should have any bearing on our actions or self-concept, harms the individual as well. It prevents the individual from facing reality, which is that we live in a world composed of 7 billion other people and their personal views. These are people we love, depend on, and work closely with every day. If we cannot view things, and ourselves, from their perspective when the occasion warrants, we will live our lives in ignorance. And the bottom line is that it DOES matter what others think. We are one life in a much larger eco-system, and we depend on that ecosystem for existence. No job, no friends, no family, no services that only others can provide? Self-esteem won’t help much when it’s blead you dry of all social capital.
- The ego-centric compulsion to ALWAYS succeed and be on the top of the ladder is harmful to the individual because it prevents them from attempting anything they might not be good at. They would rather preserve their self-esteem then attempt a truly rewarding, but risky task. No risk=no progress.
I suppose what I have come to conclude is that Narcissism is a dangerous trend that is on the rise because of this simple reason: it promotes the paradox that we are all special, and as such, better than all others. The glitch? How can you and I both be special if technically from the perspective of 7 billon others we are inferior? Solve that riddle.
Without criticism, competition, objective self-reflection, and the humility to admit when we’ve failed, we cannot truly relish our real successes, which are a natural, non-manufactured, source of self-esteem.
With all of this in mind, I’ve now begun to really ask myself what would society look like if people truly cared for themselves above all else?
Well, I’d imagine it’d look a lot like selfie-ridden facebook feeds peppered with self-congratulations and public denunciations. It’d look like a planet in an environmental crisis that individually wraps the straws we put in the water that we waste; a 50% divorce rate within the modern family, and a sea of singles who cannot find a partner without “commitment issues” or a need to “focus on me first.” It would look like children who are handed the world so they can “have a better life than their parents”, the effect of which is their embitterment and disappointment when “having it all” does not make them happy. It looks like kids who can’t focus on one task for more than 10 minutes, because self-control and discipline have been replaced by self-acceptance and self-indulgence. Children now have the power to negotiate with elders. They are calling the shots now, and the adults step aside so that young ones can become “unique”, “creative”, and unfettered by the restrictions of tradition and social etiquette.
Everyone wants to be their own boss. Nobody wants to be told what to do, even if it’s somebody with more expertise who also signs their paychecks.
In truth, I have always adhered to the belief that the individual is in charge (somewhat) of his/her destiny. One can secure happiness and fulfillment if they take the personal responsibility to do so. Happiness and positive self -image is, in fact, an attitude and outlook of our choosing, it does not have to be a reflection of how others see us. However, it must be an attitude that we sincerely feel. Being told we are special, or arriving at that conclusion without actual enlightenment, introspect, or actualization of goals, will lead to narcissism. Earning that opinion of our selves through grit, determination and self-discipline, will create citizens who are confident, powerful and self-sufficient.