Sunday, 24 March 2013

If You Read One Book This Year...

Book Review: The Narcissism Epidemic

Why do young people post ever-increasingly risqué pictures of themselves on social networking sites? Why have New York law firms had to hire ‘Praise Consultants’? (Yes, really). Why are young people behaving as if success is their entitlement? Why do people expect an intellectual sugar-rush from education, rather than the solid meal it takes a long time to digest?

If you have ever wanted to know the answers to any of these questions – and even if you haven’t – The Narcissism Epidemic is the book for you. Written by two American Professors of Psychology, it is a forensic examination of the way in which American culture has taken a wrong turn, giving rise to entitlement, a chronic lack of fulfilment, breakdown in social capital and in communities, and relationship breakdown rates which are depressing.

However, the book, as a whole, is not depressing. Although the authors do not (despite trying) conclude that a natural cycle will restore a sense of balance, they do come up with some suggestions for limiting the spread of the epidemic. But note that before they do this, they do demonstrate that the epidemic really is turning into a pandemic, and they chart the rise of narcissism even in societies with best religious or cultural defences against it.

The book does give some helpful pointers in the closing chapters. Those in educational leadership should read it. Avoid any sense that children are special or unique specimens – it is our similarities which psychologically reduce conflict. Avoid self admiration at all costs – humility, and belonging to groups, is much healthier. Avoid celebrity culture – especially the sort of vacuous fame-for-fame’s-sake that typifies reality TV. Avoid using the internet for self-promotion, for example by blogging for attention (I’ll think about that one!). And avoid debt – which lends itself to a worldview in which we all deserve the luxuries we can’t afford (‘...yet...’ we tell ourselves), on a personal level, and on a national level.

Instead, give, save, push oneself, regard others as being equally capable, expect success only as the result of hard work.  If that sounds old-fashioned, it might just be because you heard it from your parents – the so-called Silent Generation – the biggest effect on whom was the Great Depression, with the consequent expectation that life would be hard. This, of course, is the very opposite of entitlement. We could be undergoing just the economic process most likely to help.

Oh, and finally – if you are reading this because you are a concerned parent: don’t make your child the centre of the family; don’t obsess about parenting; don’t spend your free time trying to give your child the very, very, very best start in life. Because all this, of course, makes children think they are entitled to that kind of attention, and advantage, for the rest of their lives. And that is narcissism...

The Narcissism Epidemic, by Twenge and Campbell, published by $15.99. Worth every cent.

On AmazonUK,  it’s £9.50:

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