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Vanity Fair

As a society, I often wonder how we got so narcissistic. We have grown so in love with ourselves that it can no longer be classified a summer thing. We have become worshippers at our own altar.

It’s not that as humans we haven’t always been above checking ourselves out in the mirror from time to time; obviously self-aggrandizement is as old as we are. It’s not hard to imagine cavemen coming back to their cave after a successful day of hunting with a smug, satisfied expression and a series of grunts that can loosely be translated as “Yeah, I’m the CAVEMAN.”

Not that vanity is the sole province of the male of the species; certainly women have their share. It just seems that lately, both sexes – society as a whole in fact – have made a cult out of it. We spend a good deal of our salaries and an even great chunk of our time on things that are all about us, be they day spas or X-boxes.

The Spanish have a phrase for this self-congratulatory state of mind; it’s “Viva yo” which literally means “Long live me” and more loosely means “I rock” and carries with it the implied “and everybody else sucks.” It was meant to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek description of the Spanish national character; it wasn’t meant to actually take the place of one, but here at the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century, we have made it one.

You can see it in how people deal with one another. Common courtesy is no longer common. How many times, for example, have you been in a conversation with someone when their cell phone rings and they essentially put you on hold so they can answer their cell? It’s freaking rude, just for the record; if your cell rings, let it go to voice mail, and you can return the call at your leisure.

That may seem like simple rudeness, but what it really does is send a statement that the person you’re talking to is not nearly as important as you are and they should be expected to wait for you to finish your business. We seem to act on the principle these days that our time is much more valuable than everybody else’s.

Another way of asserting our own obvious superiority is the “the rules don’t apply to me syndrome.” An example of that is one I think we can all relate to. How many times have you gone to a movie and watched one of those little videos before the show starts asking the audience to be quiet during the movie and refrain from texting? And how many times does some idiot in the audience do exactly that during the course of the movie? I’m not just talking teenagers; they at least have the excuse of being teenagers. I’m talking about supposedly responsible adults, now.

These are, in and of themselves, mostly irritants. What I think is more dangerous is that we’ve begun to believe our own press. What I mean by that is that we automatically assume that our way of life is morally superior to everyone else’s and therefore what we believe needs to be imposed on everybody else.

This is particularly true of the religious, but also of the political as well. We see it mostly among fundamentalists of both persuasions; Christians who loudly proclaim that unless you are Saved by Jesus Christ, you are going Straight to Hell and by Not Saved we mean non-Christians and gays. Personally, I wish more Christians would spend less time testifying and more time practicing what they preach. It’s easy to talk the talk and a lot harder to walk the walk. Of course, as irritating as I find preachy Christians, they’re far preferable to those fundamentalist Muslims who believe that those who don’t believe as they do should be killed, period. They may believe in the Koran, but they don’t understand a word of it.

The same goes for the political fundamentalists, the ones who believe that America is always right and the rest of the world are a bunch of sniveling idiots who suffer because they aren’t Americans. First of all, as much as I love my country, I’d be the first to tell you that it is far from perfect. That “American Idol” is the most watched television program in the country supports that statement.

There are always ways of improving, and while some of us recognize that, there are plenty who think that everything is just hunky dory as it is. That’s the kind of blind self-love that refuses to recognize that we have a few zits on our face, or a few wrinkles for those of us headed in that direction.

The Founding Fathers of this country were also themselves imperfect; John Adams, for example, was sometimes insufferable in his foul moods, while Thomas Jefferson owned slaves (and had children with one). Even George Washington, maybe the most revered figure in this country’s history, owned slaves and was a bit of a patrician. Ben Franklin was known to be a bit of a womanizer in his day.

But what was truly amazing about these imperfect men is that they recognized that the nation they were creating would be an organic, living thing; they gave it the opportunity to grow and mature, and thus we have done to this day. These were men not thinking of their own glory, but of the future of their country; they had the vision to think beyond the limits of their own time and culture.

That takes the kind of character that goes beyond what’s best for me. Recognizing that it’s a very difficult thing to rise above, still we seem to be falling farther and farther away from that ideal. We have become so conscious of our own needs that we neglect the needs of others. Indeed, it seems at times as if as a society, we have lost the notion that others even have needs.

The survival of mankind as a whole depends on our ability to care for one another as a whole. When we lose sight of that, when our focus only goes as far as we can see, then we lose sight of what’s important. We begin to take for granted that perhaps just trying to get a big a slice of the pie for ourselves as we can might be the recipe for killing the pie for all of us. We are all of us a part of a whole, none more important than the other. When we all begin to believe that we are the whole, the sum of the parts is lessened.


5 Responses

  1. As a practicing Christian, I am the first to say that when I look in the mirror…I don’t look at what I am, but what I am to someday become. I am an imperfect human in this life…but know that I am a work in progress. If we can’t walk the walk, we had better not be talking the talk. We are to “love” and that is a commandment…..and that encompasses all faiths, life styles, and things we would consider “against the grain” by most. If if we can’t adhere to the Biblical principles and standards that Christ himself tried so diligently to get across to mankind…then we have failed as His diciples. If we are not following the teachings of Christ.–to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are missing out on His entire message and blessings. When we look in the mirror–we should be asking ourselves…are we living the example or just following the dogma of our religion. Quite frankly, if we are caught up in religion, we'[ve totally missed the mark…it is not about religion, it is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, who was indeed quite the radical. Thank you for this poignant piece–it truly was a “sermon” to mankind.

    • Thanks Brenda. It wasn’t meant to be a sermon so much as a wake-up call to the attitudes we’re developing, but I’ll accept the praise. 🙂 I like your attitudes towards Christianity and I suspect that was more what Christ himself had in mind when he was preaching his message in Galilee. I myself tend to feel closer to God when admiring his handiwork and not when being harranged from the pulpit about who is going to Heaven and who isn’t. Thanks for a thoughtful comment!

  2. It does seem we are faced with an array of mind boggling ego toys like no other generation before. I think this has a huge effect on the annoying self important attitudes we face and are challenged with. Never before have we needed all this constant contact and reinforcement and in reality we do not need these things i.e. phones which now allow all to contact us whenever one chooses to have one. I hate my phone to be used to this extent and so I don’t allow it to rule me or my life. Sadly however it is our younger generations they are weened and fed on all this b.s., it is those l kids really feel sorry for, insufferable ego leads to stagnate complacency. I fully believe that until you and I and a lot more of us engage with people and what we do, be it volunteering or doing something for your community and feeling what a difference we can each make (this means human interaction) we stay the same.

  3. maybe people need to stop having 250 friends, which makes the word friend meaningless.

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