By Scott Kieth
Narcissistic Hedonism Run Amuck
I have thought on this some more since last week. In addition to the blight of Nihilism, an epidemic of Narcissistic Hedonism is running amuck in our culture. This is not your everyday normal narcissism from which we all suffer to some degree or another — a common hedonistic egoism — but rather this is a very weak sense of self which requires a constant external parental and cultural validation. The goal is not to raise a child well so that they learn a vocation and become a productive member of society. The goal is to raise a child with a high self-esteem. For young adults and children this plays through parents who have taught them that they are the center of everything. Every child can be whatever they dream of being… Right? Except when they have no aptitude for basketball, mathematics, piano, or whatever. This is not as much taught with words (though it is too), it is primarily taught in actions.
This is clearly illustrated in a family life that is structured not around the family as a unit, but rather around making it to the endless cavalcade of activities that will make the child the next –– insert your particular activity or sport here – college scholarship ready superstar. (Please understand I’m not ranting against sport, but rather arguing a matter of family focus) It is manifest in every child receiving five awards at the end of the school year for simply showing up, trying, and being socially cordial. Is it a surprise then when these young adults are mentally stunned when they get to college only to find out that their professors don’t think every subpar paper or test they turn in is wonderful? Or on the other hand, is it a surprise to discover that the same child or young adult can’t contemplate, either cognitively or emotionally, why their employer doesn’t think every task they have halfheartedly completed is perfect? When every child is told that they are good at everything they attempt, even though they are not, it creates a quite reasonable disconnect between what they’ve been previously told is reality and what in fact is reality. Further, on encountering this disconnect between competing realities they often find themselves in a deep state of depression or anxiety from which they cannot lift themselves or easily be lifted.
Again, it is not my intention to suggest that any diagnoses of serious mental illness are not real or accurate. Though the stats previously reported reflect a very high percentage, higher than experienced in previous generations. There could be, and I’m sure are, a multitude of reasons for this including possible under diagnoses or miss-diagnoses in those previous generations. However, life is typically a balance of nature vs. nurture, or rather nature and nurture working concurrently. Current findings seem to suggest that individuals may be born with a predisposition to a certain temperament (i.e. they are more anxious than others), but it is almost always the case that it is the individual variances they experience in life and their culture which trigger the manifestation of serious mental illness. See this New York Times article (click here) which presents the conclusions of several long term (longitudinal) studies and concludes by saying: “In the longitudinal studies of anxiety, all you can say with confidence is that the high-reactive infants will not grow up to be exuberant, outgoing, bubbly or bold. Still, while a Sylvia Plath (one of the babies studied) almost certainly won’t grow up to be a Bill Clinton, she can either grow up to be anxious and suicidal, or simply a poet. Temperament is important, but life intervenes.” So what causes the suicidal ideations and what causes the poet? I’m only sure of one thing: I don’t have all the answers. However, we ought to start thinking about the repercussions of our general societal and cultural behavior as a possible trigger. Encouraging meaninglessness, except when it comes to the intrinsic values and rights of self seems to be a failing prospect if the statistics are to be believed. Additionally, encouraging a self-inflated sense of self over and against actual reality seems to be missing the mark as well.
Maybe these hurting souls, our children, need to hear the truth that value does exist and it is found in a Christ that loves them and has died to save them from the burdens they are either deciding to hide under a false self-esteem or carry around with them everyday. They need to know that God, on account of Christ, loves them, and even though they are miserable sinners and not the center of everything, they were everything to Him in that moment. Not because of their many wonderful qualities, but because of His main quality; Love! Maybe even more simply than that, we should shout from the mountaintops that value and Truth are found in Christ alone. This will not cure every mental illness, but a waterfall starts with a single drop. After all, the waterfall of Nihilism and Narcissistic Hedonism that covers us now started with one drop as well.