According to a different version, Narcissus pined his life away for love of his own reflection. At the spot where he expired grew the flower we call the narcissus. Today, when we encounter those who are struck on themselves, we dub their condition “narcissism.”
Little wonder why narcissism is so prevalent. Consider all of the “self” words sprinkled in our vocabulary. Mainly in the field of education, specifically psychology, we are still hearing self-esteem, self-love, self-actualization and a slew of other self-isms too numerous to list. Note the conspicuous absence of self-denial and self-reliance.
There are reasons for modern education’s emphasis on the self. One of them is that education is simply responding to the larger culture that enjoys all of the attention. Our culture desires the therapy, the positive thinking and the you-are-wonderful ideology that undergirds modern schooling and parenting. Parents appear to approve of the “grief brigades” that swoop down on our schools to provide emotional protection when tragic things occur.
Let’s face it: We may be protecting and loving ourselves to death.
This over-protectiveness of the self, the myth of the fragile child and the abundance of self-care is all catching up with us. Indeed it has changed us already. It has changed politics and who our heroes are.
What happens in politics, particularly in legislative halls, obviously affects us. But far more influential than political leaders is what happens in recording studios, on movie sets, at the desks of popular, best-selling writers, and in college classrooms. Traditional leaders — political, religious or otherwise — are no longer the shapers of cultural values.
We live in the Age of Celebrity and our icons are no longer great leaders. They are mainly entertainers or happy-talk people. Think Oprah, Dr. Phil and a few television preachers who tell us how highly we should regard ourselves instead of how much we need a savior.
Why is it that instead of children wanting to be president, so many want to be rock stars or television personalities? It could be human nature tends to take the self-serving path. We had rather be famous, and wallow in self-indulgent therapeutic talk than to think about preserving freedom or serving our community.
Americans are also pleasuring themselves to death. Rome, America’s cultural/political ancestor, died from pleasure. No force on the globe could have defeated the far flung Roman legions, but lascivious, partying citizens back home in Rome could and did. They ceased to care about politics or governance.
The beginning of America’s self-pleasuring was the Roaring Twenties. Have we noticed, however, the Twenties didn’t roar very long? The Great Depression and another world war muffled the roar. Tough times pulled us off the dance floor, turning us into field hands, factory workers and foot soldiers, again.
There is a solution to the enveloping narcissism. If music, movies, books and classrooms are now shaping our values and are emphasizing self-indulgence, we need different people to compose songs, produce movies, write books and teach. Traditionalists have historically sidestepped these roles, opting for political activism. But traditionalists are catching on. Having so long followed the Puritan claim that fiction is a lie to be avoided, they now see that fiction (or all art) is a lie that seeks to tell the truth.
Conservative forces are finally at work reclaiming the arts, producing movies and writing best-selling books that don’t wallow in erotica or other forms of self-ism, but promote civic obligation instead. The movies of the Cobb native Kendrick brothers are successful and overtly Christian; others such as “America” and “2016” are political but present worthy themes and call us away from ourselves.
We still need good political leaders, but the need of the hour is creative artists who can change the culture with their selfless art. Maybe traditionalists should say to their children, “Get thee to a recording studio, a movie career, a writing desk or a classroom and speak the truth.”
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.