Saturday, August 4, 2012

"The Narcissim Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement" by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D.

Narcissism - a very positive and inflative view of the self - is everywhere. It's what you have if you're a politician and you've strayed from your wife, and it's why five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures today than did just ten years ago. It's the value that parents teach their children with the song lyrics like "I am special. Look at me," the skill teenagers and young adults obsessively hone on Facebook and MySpace, and the reason high school students physically beat classmates and then broadcast their violence on YouTube for all to see. It's the message preached by prosperity gospel and the vacuous ethos spread by celebrity newsmakers. And it's what's making people depressed, lonely, and buried under piles of debt.

Jean M. Twenge's influential and controversial first book, Generation Me, generated a national debate with its trenchant depiction of the challenges of twenty- and thirtysomethings face emotionally and professionally in today's world - and the fallout these issues created for older generations of employers. Now, Dr. Twenge is on to a new incendiary topic that has repercussions for every age-group and class: the pernicious spread of narcissism in today's culture and its catastrophic effects. Dr. Twenge joins forces with W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., a nationally recognized expert on narcissism...[this is] their eye-opening exposition of the alarming rise of narcissism - and they show how to stop it.

Every day, you encounter the real costs of narcissism: in your relationships and family, in the workplace and the economy at large, in schools that fail to teach necessary skills, in culture, and in politics. Even the world economy has been damaged by risky, unrealistic overconfidence. Filled with arresting anecdotes that illustrate the hold narcissism has on us today - from people hiring fake paparazzi in order to experience feeling famous to college students who won't leave a professor's office until their B+ becomes an A - [this book] is at once a riveting window into the consequences of narcissism, a probing analysis of the culture at large, and a prescription to combat the widespread problems caused by narcissism. As a society, we have a chance to slow the epidemic of narcissism once we learn to identify it, minimize the forces that sustain and transmit it, and treat it where we find it. Drawing on their own extensive research as well as decades of other experts' studies, Drs. Twenge and Campbell show us how.

I can't even begin to tell you how much I liked this book. Really! You know you've got a winner on your hands when you've only read about the first 10 pages and find yourself nodding you head and saying "uh huh, uh huh, yep" under your breath.

If you think the world is going down the tubes, that people are more self-centered these days, that kids just have no respect for their elders, then this is the book for you. If you were raised as I was to know the value of hard work, to not expect anything to be handed to you, again, this book is for you. The authors do a fabulous job of mapping out how our current predicament can be directly traced back to the big change in parenting. Remember when it was OK to spank your kids? Remember when parents were more worried about raising their children to become productive members of society? (Or at least get them to age 18 and make them leave home, get a job, etc?) That's my generation, and sadly, one of the last to still have some semblance of a strong work ethic.

As much as I can understand where the Occupy Wall street people are coming from, I think a lot of those people are the ones talked about in this book. You know the kind: the kid that has just graduated from college and can't understand why anyone won't hire him/her, let alone pay him/her the $50,000/year that he/she just knows he/she deserves. The people that always feel that they are owed something, be it a job, recreation time, or what have you. That sort of person/people. And while the authors point out several reasons for this shift in attitude, the biggest part of the blame is laid directly at the feet of parents, specifically those that chose to be "friends" with their kids, rather than their parents.

When I grew up, my parents told me "no" - A LOT. I didn't turn out half bad, if I do say so myself. And now that I'm older and wiser, I really appreciate that they taught me that I won't get everything I want - not unless I go out and work my butt off for it. They taught me the value of hard work, and of the almighty dollar. They taught me what it means to sacrifice, and to save. And I've done pretty darn well for myself, thanks to their efforts at parenting. I'm glad they didn't want to be my friend, not until now when we're all adults, and it's more appropriate to get to know each other on that playing field.

My only complaint is that while the authors have a chapter of suggested ways of changing this tide, it doesn't seem like it's enough. That chapter actually came off a bit wimpy, as if even the authors themselves think there's just no end in sight to the me ME ME attitudes that seem to dominate our worlds now. And that's a very sad thought indeed.

No comments: