Thursday, June 6, 2013

Narcissism, Entitlement, and Gratitude

I just finished reading The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. It is a good description of our present culture backed up with plenty of sociological studies. The following quotes are examples of how Twenge and Campbell convince the reader that we need to be concerned about narcissism in North America.

Enron – the company made up of "the smartest guys in the room" that cooked its books and subsequently imploded – is a microcosm of the downfalls of narcissism. As Malcolm Gladwell argues in his essay "The Talent Myth," "Enron was the Narcissistic Corporation – a company that took more credit for success than was legitimate, that did not acknowledge responsibility for its failures, that shrewdly sold the rest of us on its genius." Gladwell argues that creating a great organization involves cultivating great teams of individuals who can work well together – not just individual superstars. This is yet another reason narcissists are often not very successful in the long run: they would rather take all the glory for themselves than share it with a team.1

The idea that girls should start looking sexy at five – or even earlier – has entered the mainstream. It needs to exit. You can now buy high heels for newborn babies.2

In business, entitlement often boils down to an equation: less work for more pay. Plenty of workers today want that, but they also want more flexibility, balance, meaning, and praise for their work. . . . That would be fine if they were willing to work for it. However, the number of Americans who embrace the idea of working hard has steadily declined. One study found that fewer employees in 1999 (vs. 1974) agreed that "A worker should feel a sense of pride in his work" or that working hard made them "feel more worthwhile and [like] a better person." The 1999 employees were also less likely to agree that "A worker should do a decent job whether or not his supervisor is around."3

They present much more evidence to suggest that we are living in a world of excessive narcissism and entitlement. Fortunately, the last section of the book is devoted to prognosis and treatment. They suggest that

One of the best ways to combat entitlement is to be grateful for what you already have. In one fascinating study, people were asked to list all the things they were grateful for once a week for ten weeks. Compared to a group of people who did not do this task, those who thought about everything they were thankful for reported a greater sense of well-being, enjoyed better health, and exercised more. They were also more emotionally supportive to others. Gratitude is the opposite of entitlement: you think about what you already have, instead of what you deserve to have but don't.4

The book makes a great pitch for something that the Bible (Colossians 3:15, 4:2, and Hebrews 12:28), our parents, and common sense have told us before, live a thankful life and you will be happier and better liked. Why wait for Thanksgiving? Perhaps we could all start right now to list the things for which we are grateful. How different might your life be if you set out to list all the things for which you were grateful once a week for ten weeks or more?

The authors of the book point out that part of the remedy for narcissism is humility. I might also add that a remedy for narcissism is to humbly recognize that we are all broken and in need of being fixed. None of us can claim to have it all together. We know too well the dark corners of our lives which need improvement.

Charlie Peacock's song "In The Light" (most famously recorded by DC Talk) is a reminder of my own brokenness, my need for others, and in particular, my need for a saviour.

"In The Light"
(Music and Lyrics by Charlie Peacock)

I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I've got one for every selfish thing I do

What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

The disease of self runs through my blood
It's a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control

Tell me, what's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light

Honesty becomes me
(There's nothing left to lose)
The secrets that did run me
(In Your presence are defused)
Pride has no position
(And riches have no worth)
The fame that once did cover me
(Has been sentenced to this Earth)
Has been sentenced to this Earth

Tell me, what's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I'm still a man in need of a Savior

I wanna be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I wanna shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light.

1 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 45)
2 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 158)
3 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 235, 236)
4 (Twenge and Campbell 2010, 241)

Works Cited:
Twenge, Jean M, and W. Keith Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York: Free Press, A Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc, 2010.

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