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I Bought this Book So I Could Brag to People About Reading It
on January 31, 2011
I bought this book so I could brag to people about reading it. I am joking of course. However, since finishing it I have been troubled after identifying elements of my own behavior chronicled within. It is both a confirmation of what I have experienced and felt in our society for a long time and a call to action to begin making my own changes.
The authors do a highly credible job of proving the symptoms and causes of narcissism in society drawing on extensive and rich research. Their starting point is the differences between self-esteem and narcissism providing a platform for the entire book. They write, "Narcissists are overconfident, not just confident, and - unlike most people in self-esteem - place little value on emotionally close relationships." They discount the commonly held myth that narcissists are insecure and are compensating for low self-esteem.
Among the most interesting aspects is their contention that narcissism is so pervasive that it impacts core social values to the point we are losing our way. Our culture is replete with examples of ridiculous behaviors that are symptoms and contributing factors to narcissism:
- Botox and tanning to fulfill unrealistic notions of physical beauty (skin cancer among women 15-34 has jumped 20% in the last decade)
- Reality television (e.g., My Super Sweet 16 where kids have over the top parties)
- Greed and materialism with emphasis on extravagant homes (over the last 35 years, family size has shrunk but home size has increased 66%)
- Social networking (vacuous and/or inappropriate content: 25% of teen girls have appeared nude or nearly nude on the Internet or on cell phones)
- Music lyrics (the average teen spends at least thirty minutes a day listening to songs describing degrading sex)
- Cheating in school (two-thirds of teens admit to cheating on tests/exams)
- Behaving badly in the workplace (I recommend the book, The Cost of Bad Behavior, on this subject)
- Theft (one-third of teens have stolen)
- "Hooking Up" (a convenient phrase for very casual sexual relationships)
- Loss of perspective between work and pay, value of a dollar, and value of earning for accomplishment
I took to heart that much of reversing poor behavior lies with parents. The authors write, "Not that long ago, kids knew who the boss was - and it wasn't them. It was Mom and Dad. And Mom and Dad weren't your "friends". They were your parents." They point out that now parents want their children's approval not the other way around. So a great many parents are doing their children a disservice by emphasizing materialism, indulging incivility, and accepting what has become all too common in society, namely, a lack of discipline, poor manners, service for the community.
A Time/CCN poll found that 80% of people thought kids were more spoiled than they were in the 1980's and 1990's and in the same poll two-thirds of parents described their own kids as spoiled. And while that is qualitative data, the authors provide the following empirical backup, "Adjusted for inflation, kids in the 2000s spend 500% more than their parents at the same age. Many kids don't earn the money to pay for such things, instead expecting they will just be given to them. This is the very definition of entitlement, one of the central facets of narcissism."
But the book is not focused on teens - it is just that a great deal of research has been applied to them of late. Overall there are two aspects of our society that have troubled me for some time and apply to all age groups: incivility and lack of reciprocity. I am amazed when someone is surprised that I hold the door for them (which to me is so utterly basic). The authors write, "Reciprocity is the glue that binds society together, and entitlement dissolves that glue."
The book is filled with facts, examples to make you shudder, and clear, level-headed thinking. And the authors not only diagnose the problem but provide ideas to remedy the situation. They are hopeful when they write, "we have a chance to slow the epidemic of narcissism if we learn to identify it, minimize the forces that sustain and transmit it, and treat it."