Cultural Narcissism and Character Disturbance
What is Cultural Narcissism? It’s narcissism woven into the very fabric of culture. How does it get there? In many ways, most of which are subtle, insidious, incremental. And how does it promote, even reward character disturbance or dysfunction? In ways too numerous to count. Still, it’s worth taking a look at the major narcissistic characteristics common to our culture. Doing so can teach us a lot about ourselves. And it can help us better identify the societal changes needed to promote solid character growth.
Growing in Character
No one is born with good character. (See also: Socialization is a Process.) Integrity is not a genetically-conferred trait. We have to grow in character. And all personal growth necessarily occurs within in a social context.
Depending on its nature , our environment can either foster or hinder our character development. Similarly, the character we bring to our worldly encounters shapes our environment. Cultural narcissism, therefore, is the result of a vicious cycle. Certain aspects can arrest or impede character growth. That “enables” more character dysfunction. And the more dysfunctional characters that populate a society, the more cultural norms and values change in a negative way. Moreover, such negative changes hinder character development even further. It’s a classic vicious cycle. And the cycle has been raging for many years now. Fortunately, some, including myself, believe the pendulum is beginning to swing in the opposite direction.
To grow in character we need a firm set of guideposts from a variety of sources. Our primary caretakers have to set a model for us and properly coach us. And our families and communities have to further support and encourage our growth. The values a culture promotes and the behaviors it rewards shape not only individuals but also the society at large. Societies of noble character are built upon people of solid character.
Characteristics of a Narcissistic Culture
For many years, ours has been a narcissistic culture. And cultural narcissism results from the tolerance, promotion, and reinforcement of certain attitudes and values, such as:
- Overvaluing of power, success, money, stereotypical beauty etc.
- Excessive striving for position, status, and a sense of superiority
- Excessive self-focus (i.e. egocentricity) and lack of awareness of/concern for others
- Selfishness and greed
- Inflated sense of worth and power
- Expectation of favor/sense of entitlement
- Lack of appreciation/gratitude
- Poor sense of moral obligation
Unfortunately, some problematic cultural norms have become so commonplace and deeply ingrained that we hardly ever think of them. Moreover, we rarely think of the impact they have on character formation. And that’s a true tragedy. Developing good character is a tough enough task even in the absence of the aforementioned negative aspects of a narcissistic culture. You see, we all begin our lives with many of the characteristics described above. (See also, the “10 Commandments of Character” outlined in Character Disturbance.) Accordingly, it takes a lot of positive mentoring in other values to overcome these innate tendencies. So, as bad as it is to never learn how to do better or to be better, it’s worse still when society “enables,” promotes, or even rewards the characteristics that define narcissism. We become little narcissists ourselves. And we fashion for ourselves a truly narcissistic culture.
I’ll be saying more about the interrelationship between culture and character formation in the coming weeks.
Dates have been set for workshops in the Seattle, WA and St. Louis, MO area early next year. You can find details at http://www.pesi.com. I’ll also be posting the info on the Seminars page soon.