From the July/August edition of The Atlantic, the Society column:
“Young people are generally full of themselves, but a new study suggests that today’s kids are far more self-centered than preceding generations. A team of five university psychologists analyzed the results of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a 40-question survey administered to 16,475 current and recent college students nationwide between 1982 and 2006; the test asked students to agree or disagree with statements like ‘I think I am a special person’ and ‘If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.’ The results, the authors argue, illustrate a steady increase in narcissism – a ‘positive and inflated view of the self.’ Overall, almost two-thirds of the most recent sample display a higher level of narcissism than the 1982 average.
Why the increase? The researchers speculate that technology may have something to do with it. Narcissism is especially acute among students born after 1982, the cohort most likely to use ‘self-focused’ Web sites like MySpace and YouTube.
Whatever the cause, the researchers argue that increased narcissism can have pernicious effects, on the individual and on society. They cite previous studies showing that narcissists have trouble forming meaningful relationships, tend to be materialistic, and are prone to higher levels of infidelity, substance abuse, and violence.”
(“Egos Inflated Over Time: A Test of Two Generational Theories of Narcissism Using Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis,” Jean M. Twenge et al.)
To be honest, from my experience, I think they are right.
The question for us: What do we do about it? For those of us who work in Christian formation, the whole idea of giving up oneself, loving others more than oneself, dying to self in order to have real life – all of it – will be even more profoundly counter-cultural. The whole notion of being content in all things, as Paul writes, will be impossible. When people have an â€œâ€¦inflated view of self,â€ there is little impact we can have, until the stark reality of life (their own life) brings them crashing down. But, then, will we be there to help them get over their bad self and begin truly living or will we be encouraging them in their spiritual dysfunction by acquiescing to the zeit-geist? The two acrimonious sides of the Church universal either deny reality or give themselves over to anything the culture lifts up as good. We must be wise to not fall into those traps.
It will no longer be a concern about how we might compete with the prevailing culture, which infuses so much of current religious-talk and strategizing, but how do we present the counter argument in a way that those who can hear will hear.
It will be by demonstration â€“ living a life that is full of integrity, content, and not hypocritical – starkly different and not simply by words. This is the failing of the one side of the Church â€“ there is little difference between them and have no consideration for God. There is so much difference between the other extreme in the Church and the experience of regular people that non-Christians cannot hear the Gospel through that sideâ€™s rhetoric and hypocrisy.
Can we be strong enough and wise enough to make plain that this Way of ours is not easy, is not broad in relation to the dysfunction of the culture, and is not like the world? If we cannot, then narcissism and like attitudes and conditions will reign, thus making “loving God with our whole self” and “loving our neighbors as we love ourselves” impossible, let alone truly and utterly loving our enemies. (Well, because the “its all about me” will be so absolute, we will have far more enemies individually and socially. We will end up being very isolated and lonely people.)
Now, can we talk about Second Life?