I spent yesterday with my family from Vermont. I rarely visit them, because Vermont is out of the way and doesn't seem very exciting, but then every time I spend time with them I remind myself how much I enjoy it and how I should go back soon.
While I was in Vermont I finished a book called the Narcissism Epidemic, which was a perfect book to crystallize why I love spending time with my Vermont family. They're the least narcissistic people I know.
I forget who recommended the book to me, but I read it in the same way a hypochondriac might read the DSM-IV. I suspect that I'm probably narcissistic, and that it's probably not a great thing to be.
But my family isn't. They care so little about image that as I say that I feel pathetic for even acknowledging that image might matter to someone. Like to me, for example. I do selfless things for people when it's convenient for me. They do selfless things for people when it's horrible inconvenient. I say good things and bad things about people. They only say good things. It was shocking, really. Everyone they mentioned seemed to bring nothing but delight into their lives.
Here's a good example of all these things. My eighty-five year old grandfather, with a smile on his face, told me about all the different places he had to drive my cousin, some of them hours away. Why? Because my cousin had a bad drug problem which landed him in jail. Now he had to be driven to his parole officer, drug treatment courses, and who knows where else. My grandfather shared this with no hint of shame or disgrace, but was actually beaming when he talked about how my cousin had been sober for two years now. His frankness, unquestioning acceptance, and complete absence of self interest was shocking and refreshing.
The scary part for me is that although I can imagine acting selflessly, I can't really imagine feeling it. My grandfather drove my cousin around simply because he needed a ride. No other factors mattered, and thus no other factors were considered.
I would probably also end up driving him around, but I would secretly think that it's dumb that his indiscretion has inconvenienced me. I would check my calendar, hoping that there might be an immovable appointment that could gracefully excuse me.
Narcissism is like computer addiction in that it has its advantages and disadvantages. I'd love to have no computer, which would make me more social, outgoing, and even a lighter traveler. But then I'd have to give up making money online, keeping in touch with friends online, and a number of other perks. The pros and cons are so intertwined that it's difficult to strip away the cons without the pros.
Being a narcissist enables me to believe that it's reasonable for me to totally disregard standard employment, because I'm "special" enough to do my own thing-which in my case amounts to being myself and writing about it. It allows me to do something the book specifically cautions against: refusing to settle when dating, believing I can find someone perfect. It fuels me with the bravado necessary to get on a stage in front of a crowd and share stories with my life.
Whether or not these things are empirically good, I love them all. On the other hand, I'm also acutely aware of the benefits of being humble, because I run into them from time to time. When I was in Colombia I had a conversation with Matt, the guy I stayed with. We were talking about how some people come off as such good people that you're immediately drown to their charisma. Although we both knew the exact type of person we were talking about, neither of us could pinpoint what made them that way. My guess now is that it's a lack of narcissism.
As I write, I'm cognizant that I'm thinking about it the wrong way; even when talking about leaving narcissism behind, I'm considering how that might benefit me. Fresh off reading the book, I'm too aware of how many first person pronouns this post is littered with. Some habits can be changed instantly, some can be changed with prolonged hard work, but my guess is that narcissism requires time, maturity, and awareness to fade.
I'm writing this on the last leg of JetBlue All-You-Can-Fly. Looking forward to a day or two in Vegas, a few days in LA, and then back in SF for about a month before heading to Japan and China.
How lucky I am to have so many awesome readers really came into focus the other day. I left my jackets at Buffalo Airport, and one tweet later half a dozen people in the area offered to get them for me. Thank you to everyone who offered!
Tynan and crew,
Be really careful about confusing confident self-awareness with narcissism. Narcissistic personality disorder, as Sean notes in the comments, means that you don't see other people as real people - in effect they are just extensions to be used by you for your needs, without regard to their happiness or safety. Narcissists are shameless,
Believing that your life has lessons and stories worth sharing - as you do , Tynan, and as a healthy audience agrees - is not narcissism, nor is desiring & executing a plan to not be part of the 9-to-5 drama that consumes so many lives.
There's actually a very very thick line between selfishness and narcissism.
I might recommend a book called Happier by Tal Ben-Shaha.
I don't think that being selfish is a bad thing. In Tibetan, compassion includes the self along with others. It's just a matter of being able to take into account the whole picture.
Also, I think everyone likes to feel needed. That their life has some impact and meaning in the world. Maybe, your grandfather got some sense of purpose (and feeling needed) by helping out the kid.
Can't say that I wholly agree with what you are saying. Not having read that particular book but having done a lot of research in my own right; complete narcissism can be thought of as being on the same spectrum (but on the opposite end of) complete selflessness. Neither end is good and our goal in life is to find a balance between leaving the most self-actualized life that we can, while at the same time, living it in such a way that it is not all about us and our individual goals, dreams, and aspirations. Is narcissism bad? Yes, but in your usage of the term, you seem to be equating (or at least implying that) any activity/idea that benefits you at the "expense" of others to be narcissistic. Which is (IMO) not correct....in fact that's on the opposite end of the spectrum and either extreme is not good. Again, narcissism is bad...very bad. But people who are not at least a little bit "narcissitic" end up being co-dependent. Neither state is ideal for the person or his/her family, friends, and associates.
I took some classes in Dharmsala, India where the Tibetan government is based and one item particularly stuck in my mind:
There are basically 4 kinds of people that can be likened to mangoes. Ones that look ripe, and are ripe. Ones that look ripe, and aren't... and the opposites (don't look ripe, but are, etc).
Its an interesting conundrum to run a successful site such as yours. It requires a certain amount of narcissism to write interesting posts that people like to read despite your natural tendencies.
Stephen, I stopped reading her post when she called Mother Theresa a 'productive narcissist' and then said that she had 'no empathy.' What??
This post has been on my mind lately, and in particular this:
"Being a narcissist enables me to believe that it's reasonable for me to totally disregard standard employment, because I'm "special""
I think there's a real distinction between narcissism and confidence, and I think empathy really is the switch that flips it between the one and the other.
That's consistent with a definition of narcissism that entails inhabiting your own reality, because empathizing with nobody is that.
A friend posted this quote on Facebook today. Williamson invokes God but I think the quote resonates whether you're down with that or not:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
For me, the value in your writing, Tynan, is that it serves as an example of someone actively confronting his own fears and pushing against them to explore. And the reason that's valuable to me is that I empathize with you, I believe we are the same, and so when I see you do something I think, oh, I can do that, too; why am I not?
That's always been the way you've depicted it, too, it's what your books are about: "Here's what I have done, and here's how you can, too."
To me, that's exactly *not* narcissism, it's confidence, because you're working to empathize with others as you do it. You're not eschewing normal employment because you believe you are fundamentally better than other people. It's just your willingness to try it, which is just confidence and how you relate to fear.
Now, myopia and short-sighted selfishness are different things and I don't know many people who don't struggle with them, like I said in my prior comment. But I think you're safe from narcissism exactly because your tone is always encouraging: "I did this; so can you."
"...that you're immediately drown*..."
The gods of written English will smile if you change this.
Keep the good stuff coming ;)
Check out this post by Justine Musk that I read yesterday:
I found both your post and hers very interesting!
You must know some pretty special people if they lived and VT and weren't narcissistic. I've been here for over three years now and most locals I know are well, narcissistic and have a great dislike of foreigners (interestingly only people from other American states, not actual foreigners).
Mind you this is a state with a very active secession movement.. hah.
Good post. One of the more striking lines: "It fuels me with the bravado necessary to get on a stage in front of a crowd and share stories with my life." It's certainly true - you do have to think highly of yourself to a certain extent to earn fame or a position of influence (rich, executive, etc.). Narcissism in the sense of loving yourself isn't bad in of itself - it's more the corollary selfishness that might cause problems when it's excessive. Hard to strike a balance, isn't it? We were made to be selfish. That's why we tend to help people we know and people who benefit us or may benefit us in some way (e.g. reputation, in the way of the charismatic unselfish person), such as family or community - nothing's cut white and black and everything is meant to adapt to individual situation, so there's a wide range of variety, naturally, but that's where it generally tends to fall.
If you were fully altruistic, in the true sense, and entirely unselfish, there would be no reason for you to desire to stay alive unless it would help others that you did.
It's a dangerous night to be walking outside. Not for me, but for the tiny little frogs that dot the gravel road. I swish my overpowered Surefire flashlight across the dark gravel trying to avoid stepping on them. When I get close they freeze in their tracks, making them harder to see. This would be a good reflex if I was trying to eat them, but it's working against them tonight.
I'm walking down to the beach for old times' sake. It's 2am and I'm in Milton, Vermont. Calling it a beach is generous. Shale rocks densely scattered over green outcroppings of weeds lead up to murky water. There are a few docks and a few boats pulled up out of the water. They're not locked to anything - they're just sitting there.
I crouch, pick up one of the little green frogs, and watch him slowly climb around my wrist as I rotate it. I probably haven't touched a frog in ten years. Playing with frogs used to be my favorite thing to do when I was in Vermont. I liked to catch them in a bucket and then empty it into the nearby creek and watch them swim away. Sometimes we'd throw them in the air so that they'd land in the lake. That seems a bit inhumane now, but we didn't know better back then. We were kids. I lower my arm to the ground and nudge the frog off of my wrist.
“Somewhere in the vaults of the bank of Cox & Co., at Charing Cross, there is a travel-worn and battered tin dispatch-box with my name, John H. Watson, M.D., Late Indian Army, painted upon the lid. It is crammed with papers, nearly all of which are records of cases to illustrate the curious problems which Mr. Sherlock Holmes had at various times to examine...”