I and a Chinese student of mine are mystified by what seems to us to be dramatic representations of narcissism in social media and the behavior of American students. Our socialization processes taught us that each of us is severely flawed, and that, as a consequence, we should not dwell on our uniqueness nor our successes.
I think it fair to say we are aghast at the presumption that others should be interested in the trivialities of our daily lives. Both of us are pleased, but a little shocked, when others express interest in our few accomplishments. We would never expect others to be desirous of seeing our pictures of our cats, clothes, parties, or even significant others.
The diminution of the wonderful concept of “friend” on social media, for example, confuses us. Why would one want to diminish “friendship” as Aristotle or Seneca speak of it by racing to accumulate hundreds of friends, as if those people see you as someone so dear to them that they have difficulty distinguishing their interests from yours? The short-hand answer seems to be “narcissism.”
A recent paper argues that the magnitude of narcissism is caused by humans–humans who should know better. By examining parenting habits and their effects, they suggest potential interventions that might reduce narcissism. What I fear is that many would see the research as unimportant because they do not appreciate what harm narcissism does to human interactions and to the personal growth of the narcissistic.