‘We watch in reverence’

You know that thing?  That thing that happens when something- a word, a person, a concept- comes into your immediate frame of reference and then seems to be everywhere?

You do.  You know what I’m talking about.

Way back when (it’s only been a few months, but somehow it seems like eons ago) I wrote a little bit of a thing about our selfie culture and what larger meaning and impact that whole mindset is having on us, communally-speaking.  I also wrote something- even longer ago- about our current sorta mayor and his particularly heinous form of self-aggrandizing.  I don’t want to think/talk/write about him right now.

I also noted, much more recently, there are (at least) two great bloggers out there writing about narcissistic personality disorder, who have seen fit to acknowledge my own humble scribblings hereabouts.  As I said, I know little about clinical narcissism, myself.  From a psychological and/or diagnostic perspective, anyway.

But the subject keeps popping up…

Just today, for example, it appeared in my Facebook feed in a HuffPost article.

There’s a double-edged sword to all the potentiality for wonder and discovery in this world of ‘information sharing’ that we have happening.  There are SO many great sites- fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, essays, opinions… there are myriad variations on endless themes out there.  But, as I’ve also mentioned, the lack of editorial control sometimes means that there is content out there that requires that we look at it quite critically  (certainly with a keener eye than is our general practice) to ensure that the material is coming from more than a troll-ish imagination that seeks attention and cares little for source checking or anything like documented support to ideas and statements.

There are also those sites that are devoted to pure vitriolic hatred- but they are easy enough to spot and avoid.  The pages of those with narcissistic leanings can be a little more insidious (like narcissism itself), since, needing attention, they have learned to disguise their manipulative ways by claiming to be talking about something else.

One such page was brought to my attention recently.  Generally I would have had a look and then dismissed it from my mind never to visit again.  But this page… In addition to the fact that it is poorly written (the grammatical and spelling errors are almost physically painful) the blatant pandering for attention is out of control.  Again, not normally my concern.  Except that such poorly-written blogs can be a little like a train wreck- and it can be hard to stop looking out of sheer amazement and morbid curiousity.  They often remind me of some of the more classic (using the word loosely) assignments I received while I was teaching, and so provide an element of nostalgia alongside the horror.

This one has stuck with me since it seems to be an exemplar of specific narcissistic tendencies- in particular the pathological drive to maintain contact and receive attention (if the ship of positive attention has sailed, then, evidently, negative attention will suffice) from those who have terminated relationships with the narcissist.

It’s such an inexplicable response that I can’t even wrap my head around it.

Ursula, at An Upturned Soul, wrote a post that helped me understand this propensity, at least a little bit.  She also noted that narcissism, as a theme/buzzword, appears to be the newest popular ‘trend’ in pop psychology.  For those who have experienced life with someone with narcissistic personally disorder this must be met with mixed emotions.  Everyone may be jumping on the bandwagon of late, but, as Ursula notes, overexposure and then boredom with the subject (side effects of our limited attention spans) will happen and something new will fill the void of topical psychological diagnoses.

I have had little personal experience (thankfully) with NPD.  But the other day a colleague asked me to define ‘narcissism’, so I inquired about the context of the question.  A mutual friend described the person she is involved with as a narcissist- and, not having even basic internet search skills, she didn’t know where to begin to look to discover what such a designation might entail.  I explained that there is a significant difference between narcissism as a character trait and narcissistic personality disorder as a pathology, though both terms come from the same source (it turned out that the person in question, while something of a ‘vain peacock’ does not, likely, have NPD).

You know I love words- and I’m all about the myths from which some of them originated…

Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph.  Something more than human, and, by all accounts, quite something to behold as far as physical beauty is concerned anyway.  He was also a jerk.  He delighted in the effect that he had on those foolish enough to think that a pretty face meant that he might have a heart/soul to match.

The version of the story that most know comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The mountain nymph, Echo, sees and loves Narcissus, who spurns her advances and leaves her lonely and existing as little more than a remnant of her true self- a hollow reverberation that is the source of our word for the (partial) repetition of a sound or thought.

The goddess in charge of revenge- Nemesis- is unimpressed by this behaviour and causes Narcissus to fall deeply in love with his own reflection- his exterior love mirroring his interior love of himself.  Since this love would forever remain unrequited, Narcissus died alone and in agony that it could never be fully realized or properly addressed.  He pined and wasted away because his self-centredness was so encompassing- both before and after Nemesis played her little trick-  it never allowed for the presence of another person in his life.

Other versions of the story- both contemporary with and earlier than Ovid’s- end even more bleakly, with Narcissus actively killing himself when he realized that no one would ever live up to his self-idealization and replace himself as the centre of his own universe.

The takeaway from all versions of this story is that extreme selfishness/self-involvement/self-love- whether stemming from pathology or personality- is never going to end well.  As one of my blogging buds said a while back (I’m pretty sure it was Beth Byrnes- check out her post that I reblogged earlier today- awesome stuff, always), the historical pendulum- that has seen our societies move from a norm that was community-centric to one that highlights the importance of the individual- has swung too far.

We need a happy medium.  Yes, one must pay attention to the needs of oneself in order to effectively contribute to the addressing of the needs of the many.  Definitely.  No argument at all there.  A little selfish hedonism every once in a while is certainly acceptable and to be encouraged- provided it is done without completely ignoring our responsibilities to those with whom we share the planet.

Our systemic self-interest is directly connected to our lack of historical awareness and engagement with the lessons that have come before- those that are recorded in our collective myths and the events of significance that we can all access, should we be bothered to stop thinking only about ourselves and take the time to actually and actively LEARN something.

I know.  I’m lecturing.

It isn’t all about ‘ME’.  It CAN’T be all about the individual.  Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our societal structure is in real danger of crumbling beneath this misperception- that the things we do need benefit us and us alone.  We are encouraged in this belief by our leaders- mainly through the lies rhetoric that speaks about people looking for ‘handouts’ or a ‘free ride’- at the expense of ‘the rest of us’.

Systemic selfishness is NOT an acceptable way of approaching the world.

Back in the Dark Ages (or the 1970’s), a band called Genesis (which then included Mr. Peter Gabriel) recorded and regularly performed an epic song that is both a work of musical genius and employs lyrical imagery that alludes to our shared histories and mythologies over the course of its 23 minutes.  It’s a commentary about- among other things- religion/spirituality, society and personal journeys.

Section IV- entitled ‘How Dare I be So Beautiful?’– references a solitary person, seemingly obsessed by his own image and evokes the story of our friend, Narcissus.  The heroes of the song witness his transmutation into a flower and are, themselves, pulled into their own reflections in the water.

The next section- ‘Willow Farm’– sees them emerge from the water and find themselves in a new reality- where everything moves and changes quickly and everyone seems mindlessly busy.  With each random blast of a whistle, everything changes into something else.  (Keep in mind that this was written in 1972.  Holy prescient view of the technological future in which we now find ourselves, Batman!)

After passing through the Apocalypse (there’s that apocalypticism creeping in- societal discord seems to make that happen), Magog is ultimately defeated by the forces of good.

It’s a powerful piece- made even more so by its employment of the imagery and archetypes that are drawn from our shared mythologies.  Its length (given the shortness of attention spans these days) and the fact that it alludes to all kinds of cool stuff, likely renders it unapproachable- to too many people- these days.  Like so much else of value.

Part of understanding the value of the Humanities is the necessary comprehension that we NEED to look outward- as well as inward- to really manifest our connection with this world of ours.  The fact that narcissism- with all its meanings- is such a topical term of late seems to be profoundly illustrative of the fact that this reality has been neglected- to our extreme and dangerous detriment.

And the fact that our putative leaders encourage and lead us by example into these behaviours?

Sing it, Pete.

So we’ll end with a whistle and end with a bang

And all of us fit in our places

With the guards of Magog swarming around

The Pied Piper takes his children underground

Dragons coming out of the sea

Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me

He brings down the fire from the skies

You can tell he’s doing well by the look in human eyes

Better not compromise, it won’t be easy

666 is no longer alone

He’s getting out the marrow in your back bone

And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll

Gonna blow right down inside your soul

Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon

In blood, he’s writing the lyrics of a brand new tune

29 comments on “‘We watch in reverence’

  1. bethbyrnes says:

    Cole, it is impressive how you have built upon your own themes in this blog so deftly, weaving in the popular narcissism craze and the deterioration of our social fabric. I am listening to your Genesis piece right now – thank you for reminding me of this band! We need more discussions like this one and, who cares if you are preaching? Sometimes I feel like we are all ‘echoing’ into the void. (Thanks for the kind shout-out, too).

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, Beth. It IS all connected- about that I have no doubt whatsoever. Our lack of REAL education is leading us into the void- and leaving us at the mercy of leaders who are looking out for themselves and their cronies. I do hope that we are SHOUTING into that void, though. Echoes eventually fade away- if it takes raised voices in repetition to get the message across, then so be it. I can keep on shouting, if need be.
      Thanks for reading- and repeatedly demonstrating that I’m not alone in seeing these things. That’s a pretty great reassurance!

  2. Grumble Girl says:

    Good read… and you know I love me some Genesis. (Not the bible one… the real one.)

  3. Amen and amen! I already jumped on my soap box regarding education on Beth’s post.
    I really think that those who stick their heads in the stand don’t want to hear; addressing the needs of the many and taking responsibility for those with whom we share the planet are anathema to those who subscribe to laissez-faire and manifest destiny, which I’m afraid has returned in a big way, at least to the North American continent.

  4. LindaGHill says:

    What has struck me most of late, and increasingly in the last few years, is people’s unquestioning sense of entitlement, especially young people. It’s like we’re breeding a new species of narcissists. It’s scary.

    • colemining says:

      We are, Linda. And you’re right. It’s crazy. And terrifying, frankly. Especially since it seems to be sanctioned/encouraged at all levels of society. And listening to the entitled and narcissistic is how we are CHOOSING to spend the leisure time that we have. That’s what bugs me most.
      Thanks for reading- and your input. All these rational and awake voices have to have some impact and lead to change. We can do this!

      • LindaGHill says:

        Do you think? In my experience, a narcissist is never wrong and therefore will never listen to reason. I think the best thing we can do is try to lead by example – try to get them before they’re too far gone or before they have to learn the hard way that life will not hand them everything they demand on a silver platter.

      • colemining says:

        I very much think that there is a dramatic difference from those who have actual NPD- clinical, pathological narcissism- and those who have learned that such behaviours are acceptable- having been poorly taught (by the media, and the culture that suggests that ‘one can be/do anything’ with minimal effort). Re-educating is hard, but those who are expressing issues stemming from vanity and concepts of self-worth taken to an extreme degree should still be teachable.

        I hope so, anyway. I know a whole lot of great kids out there- who have learned valuable lessons (and radically changed their behaviour, in some cases) through community activism and seeing that THEY are not the centre of the universe. I also know a whole lot of fantastic parents who work hard balancing the message of achievable goals and inherent value (as human beings all have inherent value) without instilling exaggerated concepts of individuality that invalidate the worth or beliefs of other human beings.

        I think it can be done. It has to be addressed on a fairly grand scale- which is a pretty HUGE undertaking and daunting as HELL. I know this. But I can’t sit silently while shaking my head at the futility of it all. The scope is exhausting just to think about, so I hold to the small- but incredibly valuable- signs I’m seeing (mainly hereabouts with all you good peeps) that tell me that change is WANTED, as well as NEEDED.

      • LindaGHill says:

        I know NPD firsthand. I was best friends with a pathological narcissist for years… still suffering the effects. I do hope there is a prayer for those affected by the lesser version…

        “The Mirror” by our fellow Ontarian, navigator1965 http://navigator1965.wordpress.com/about-me/ will, I believe, make a lot of people look twice at those around them, and even themselves. I dearly hope its distribution is widespread.

      • colemining says:

        In learning more about NPD, I’m actually re-examining some of my own past relationships. I think that I have been lucky to avoid real engagement with that particular pathology (can’t say the same for some other pathologies, unfortunately), but I have certainly encountered those who have taken self-involvement to a level of above-average extremity.

        I always read Nav’s writings with interest in his particular point of view and context. We can all learn from each other- this is without question.

        Experience is a great teacher- but all experiential data has to be tempered by an awareness of our cultural and historical context. Progress isn’t possible without an understanding of where we stand- as world communities- that is sourced in critical examination. THIS is why we need to reinforce the necessity of the study of the Humanities. Any reactionary and polarizing dialogue serves to further divide us- and what we need right now is an awareness that we all HAVE to be in this thing together.

      • LindaGHill says:

        Agreed. The question really is where to start… isn’t it? Schools, I suppose. Anti-bullying campaigns are helping, but are they enough?

      • colemining says:

        School is one place- but it has to go deeper than anti-bullying (not that that isn’t a vital component). It’s about teaching kids that they AREN’T the centre of the universe- and that there is more than one, narrow way of looking at the world. Which takes us back to the importance of studying the Humanities – and all the lessons we’ve already learned, but seem to be choosing to forget.

  5. My definition of narcissism? Twitter.

    • colemining says:

      BZD- I think that there is certainly an element of narcissism (and voyeurism, as well) in all forms of social media. Anything that permits the (over)sharing of information helps contribute to this idea that EVERYONE in the world (or at least your friends/followers) is waiting with bated breath to hear about the latest minutiae in someone’s life- whether that minutiae is a perceived witticism, complaint about that rude person you encountered in the coffee shop or a selfie wearing your new bikini.

      This isn’t to say that social media don’t have their place, but their value is rarely found in the 140-character attempts at pithiness that are endlessly being exchanged. Although I did find Twitter invaluable when I was forced (by work) to miss the Canadian women beating the US for the gold medal the other day. Everything has its place…

      Thanks for the visit- and the comment!

  6. Thank you for the mention and kind words, much appreciated!

    What a superb post! As always your perceptive mind has cut to the chase and your ability to express your insight is brilliantly concise! I know you can’t see it, but I’m giving you a standing ovation.

    I love your sense of humour too!

    I must confess I do revisit blogs which I am fairly certain (keeping my mind open to my being wrong) are powered by NPD. Partly as a study aid, but also to remind myself of certain things I have a tendency to forget, such as the pattern narcissists have of accusing others of being narcissists, often doing it very publicly to generate the sort of attention storm they thrive in and then claiming they are the authority on such matters so no one is allowed to argue with their authority and the person they have accused is censored from defending themselves and having their side of the story heard.

    On the internet such an accusation can spread like wildfire, people love a drama and get caught up in it without thinking things through, and it cause a great amount of damage. Madeline Scribes broaches that subject with great insight and articulation.

    You are a natural inspiration, thank you for sharing!

    • colemining says:

      Ursula- high praise indeed! I certainly don’t claim any great level of background in NPD, but I have definitely encountered more than my fair share of people who display tendencies of extreme vanity/self-involvement, so I completely defer to your experience with and understanding of the pathological designation.

      I think that is part of the draw of these blogs/commentaries/tweets and etc. that are authored by those who need to be the centre of all things. The drama can be engaging (despite ourselves, we can all be tempted to witness a little bit of drama now and again)- but we must keep in mind that such platforms can also be the means through which predators (narcissistic or otherwise) draw in their prey.

      Thank you for speaking about your experiences and bringing awareness to the realities of NPD and its fallout. It’s so very important that we learn how to recognize the signs so that we can do everything possible to avoid engagement with these predators.

  7. Damyanti says:

    I see narcissism every day on my FB feed. People want you to know what they ate, where they went, who they were with, and one even posted a picture of her ‘perfectly-looped’ excrement!

    • colemining says:

      It’s everywhere, isn’t it? A constant call for attention- positive or negative. And all to the detriment of things of actual import. I’m trying to understand it, but I’m not sure I ever will. Thanks for reading!

  8. Kim Saeed says:

    Hi! I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Award. Looks like you’re on a roll 🙂 Check it out here: http://letmereach.com/2014/03/02/sunshine-award-nomination/

  9. […] the narcissism that also permeates out culture (something that I find deeply disturbing and have written about before)- and projections that pathological Narcissistic Personality Disorder is at the heart of this […]

  10. […] the narcissism that also permeates out culture (something that I find deeply disturbing and have written about before)- and projections that pathological Narcissistic Personality Disorder is at the heart of this […]

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