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!