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Narcissism Pandemic

By Mehreen Omer, Lahore, Pakistan | Find her on Facebook

Indubitably, our society today is sponsoring a scum of bloated egos mostly in the name of carving out our self-esteem. The ‘Generation Me’ syndrome has plagued almost every individual. The world has not only headed towards but is more egocentric. Our culture encourages hubris in our work and behaviour, instead of keeping it in check. This narcissism outburst has turned out to be a pandemic from an epidemic. And it has diseased our global society. Through the realms of marketing, advertising and consumerism, heedless self-indulgence has become rather a common phenomenon, with people becoming more and more self-involved, despite their denials.

Take education: students today, in general, would like to attain at least a ‘B’ grade simply because they attended all the classes. At home, spoiled children would argue with and answer back their parents that they “will not drink milk, because they already ate veggies and they can’t obey their parents on both occasions!” This is unjust.. Here, the parents and education system themselves are at fault. In the attempt to build up the confidence of the younger generation, institutions have puffed up their selves with a lopsided sense of self-worth. Children have become ever more demanding and unscrupulous. Most teenagers, Muslim or not, They would be annoyed if their parents are were not able to get them the latest tech gadget, even if all their other wishes had been fulfilled.

A very intricate demonstratione of narcissism can be displayed in a “normal” college heterosexual relationship today. In seeking attention and/or approval people try to make the other person cognizant of their favors in the name of "love". In this case, the young woman will respond with stronger emotional attachment to her beloved – and so continues the cycle of ‘feeding the nafs’ (human desires). People simply want to be appreciated for what they do superficially. Nothing is earned, or worked for through struggle and sweat. We want, we want, we want. Even when we carry out doing something good for others whom we love, we have this expectation at the back of their mind that it is ultimately ourselves who will be benefitting.

Many advertisements and programs tell us that “We Are Special”. The famous brand slogan of L’Oreal “Because you are worth it” inflates one’s ego and makes him us feel that he we deserves to be treated in an extra special manner. What are we worth? Why are we worth ‘it’? Advertisements exploit our innate fondness with self-improvement with horrendous ideals and needs. The ‘Me, Myself and I’ thinking culture carries a dysfunctional omen to the proper functioning of the society. The value of individualism is not socially cohesive at all and rather acts as a breakdown. Self-obsession is one result. People would take thousands of snapshots of themselves in hopes of becoming the world’s next top model; anticipating ‘likes’ and for comments from their friends and families' approval to say, “yes, you meet the social standard of outer-beauty, yes you are worth it”.

The infamous book ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne explicitly tells people that they can be their own gods. They can make their own destinies. All the ‘magic lies in us’; we just need to explore it. Many critics say that the book makes us greedy and self-centered. So we do not simply buy a car because we have to travel – because of a need, we buy one simply because we want one, and because “they have one”. Believing in oneself as “the ultimate” is a delusion, but seeing things for what they are is believing in reality. Also websites like YouTube allow users to post their own videos and gain attention; everyone can be a star on YouTube. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame.

Narcissism is arguably a direct result of the ideology of evolution, which promotes the philosophy of ‘Survival of the Fittest’. In that race to survive, everyone has to take the cup for  him or herself. In the famous game of musical chairs, everyone runs to take the seat for himself. There is no such thing as sacrifice and selflessness in a narcissist world. People have become selfish. Most people, including Muslims, have become selfish. Even the syllabus of economics taught in schools and universities today highlights the importance of self-interest first - to beat the others - and so one must not surprised to see narcissism manifesting itself openly on educational platforms.

But we must ask ourselves, what is wrong in being a narcissist in the first place? People argue that as long as we are not causing any harm to others, what’s the big deal? This is the same as postulating that there is nothing wrong in being a criminal as long as we are being totally innocuous to the society. But there is a logical inconsistency here. A criminal is by his nature, bound to cause harm to the society. Hosting a ‘Me-Me-Me’ culture is in effect hurting social relationships. It is causing rift between spouses over trivial issues. Disputes are occurring between hardcore friends over some woman/guy. The concept of self-sacrifice and selflessness has totally disappeared. Everyone wants the trophy for himself, even if it means trampling others during the race. The ties of brotherhood and affection are becoming extinct. The so-called fraternities and sororities in popular culture are nothing but a manifestation of how lonely we have become, so that we need to affiliate ourselves with such groups in order to feel being part of a society. Then again a careful analysis of such organizations would show that it is rather more a need of affiliation that drives a person to join them rather than a result of development of conscious, or making them care about others.

So conclusively, this narcissism pandemic is here to stay unless there is a shift in the current paradigm which breeds ego-addled individuals. This must begin at home. Parents need to be develop discipline towards their children and tell them the rights of others, even animals, elders and children younger than them. Muslims should take more steps to be more integrated in their society and help the community in a positive manner. Whenever a difficult situation arises, we must not think only of ourselves, but of others too. The problem may be complicated, but the solution is simple.

But how can we turn to the secular paradigm to provide us with solution when it itself is their cause? In Richard Hawkins book ‘The Selfish Gene’, it is postulated that self-centered humans are the winners in the race of survival. So where exactly does the solution lie? Indeed, Islam comes forward teaching us humility in the best manner possible. It says in the Qur’an:

“Do not turn your nose up at people, nor walk about the place arrogantly, for Allah does not love arrogant or boastful people. Go at a moderate pace and lower your voice, for the ugliest of all voices is the braying of donkeys.” (Qur’an, 31:18-19)

Muslims especially need to be representatives of such a culture. But many Muslims today are sacrificing their family lives over their work and studies. Parents don’t have time for children; children don’t want to spend time with their parents. Each is concerned with his own work. Even in many religious lectures, there is an on-going competition to deliver the best lecture, not because they want to please Allah but because they want to earn name for themselves. Many Muslims today in the urge to earn rewards by converting someone to Islam are pushing boundaries. Islam teaches us intellectual humility and as the carriers of the truth, we Muslims are supposed to live Islam, not impose it on others. Anger is another direct ramification of narcissism. We grow angry because we feel our rights have been violated. We at that emotionally angering time do not even consider the situation that would have caused the other person to take such an action but become all boiled up because we want others to discharge their responsibilities towards ‘us’. In a nutshell, narcissism is a lethal disorder, we all need to fight.

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