I, I, Captain

This article may not come as a shock to many of you.  According to some studies, we are becoming a more narcissistic culture.  

What surprised me in this article was the utter lack of any real discussion of why this could be the case.  I’m no genius, but even I have noticed a massive cultural shift in how children are raised.  Watching television with my kids (we’re on vacation, and therefore have access to television that we normally don’t) is fascinating, and a tad disgusting.  The emphasis in nearly every show on the ability, smartness, cleverness, and all-around awesomeness of the kids watching the show can be nauseating at times.  
Every show attempts to elicit interaction from the viewers, giving them a few seconds to answer questions before the show answers them.  Invariably, the show congratulates the viewers on how smart they are for figuring it out.  I’m not suggesting that the shows should assume that the viewers are stupid or dullards, it seems the emphasis on building self-confidence is more than strong enough.
Remember stories about schools that ban certain competitive sports because pop psychologists insist that losing damages self-esteem?  Ever marveled how many scholars, great kids, and otherwise award-worthy kids there are in any given elementary school?  Judging based on bumper stickers alone, we seem to be raising a bumper crop of genius citizens.
Or narcissists.
Funny, I was raised in an era of competitive sports.  I wasn’t very good at practically all of them.  I don’t think it permanently scarred me (though I admit I’m not an avid sports player as an adult).  These experiences helped guide me in focusing my energies and efforts in areas that I seemed to be better in.  I’m not surprised that so many 20-somethings feel so bewildered at times about life and what they should be doing in it.  When you’ve been raised with the idea that you’re awesome at everything, it must be overwhelming.  
And I suspect that for all the positive reinforcement and narcissistic songs, people really deep-down recognize that they aren’t nearly as accomplished and beautiful and sexy and intelligent as culture wants to insist they are.  I’d be depressed too if I felt as though I’d been lied to all my life about my abilities, resulting in my own inability to determine what my real strengths are, and leaving me no alternative but a lot of distrust of all of my abilities and a lot of work to sift out the gratuitous awards in search of what I do seem to have genuine proclivity towards.  I imagine that would lead to a fair bit of paralysis and delayed launchings into the traditional hallmarks of adulthood – stable work and stable relationships.
I want my kids to know how special and wonderful they are.  And I ground that basis not by lying to them about everything they do so they think they’re Einstein’s brain in an Olympic athlete’s body.  Rather, I ground their value and specialness in the fact that they have been created by a loving God who has sacrificed of Himself to ensure that they can be with Him forever.  Each of my kids has gifts and inclinations and abilities and we encourage those.  But we don’t feel compelled to pretend that our kids are good at everything – or have to be good at everything.  I can’t imagine the pressure that would place on a kid!
So pop artists aren’t doing much different than what culture is teaching our kids to do through a constant barrage of meaningless compliments.  Whether pop artists are writing these songs to reassure themselves or their listeners is probably a moot question, ultimately.  I would imagine they all need as much reassurance as they can get.
I strongly recommend watching PBS Kids in the morning to get this self-esteem fix.  Just be careful not to OD.

2 Responses to “I, I, Captain”

  1. Lo Says:

    So true, and so discouraging. I think we are meeting more and more young people who either have no idea what they can do, or think they can do everything. I’m reminded of Paul’s admonition the no one should “think more highly of himself than he ought.”

    I know a number of not-so-young people who think the worst thing they can do is “beat themselves up” over a mistake or, dare I say it, failure. That includes never apologizing, because that would be to admit that you did something wrong, which might make you feel guilty, which would be a bad thing, even if you are guilty. *sigh*

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    I love me means never having to say I’m sorry.

    Or something to that effect.  It’s not that folks are necessarily consciously seeking to be ruder, but the net result of a heavy emphasis on personal satisfaction or self-esteem is that we’re often so busy trying to keep ourselves feeling good that we don’t know how to relate to others in any meaningful way – particularly if that way might require us to acknowledge that our self-esteem is not necessarily well-founded.

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