In Ovid’s work “Metamorphoses” we meet the character Narcissus who has never seen his reflection in a mirror. For us today, surrounded as we are by conveniences (mirrors being one of them) it seems inconceivable that he would have never seen himself in one, but that’s how the story goes. While in the woods Narcissus comes upon a pool of water, bends down to drink, for the first time sees his face reflected back to him, and he falls violently in love with his image. He bends to kiss his image and discovers that he cannot “have” this person that he sees. He becomes so besotted and obsessed with himself that he stops eating and sleeping, and eventually dies. It is from this character and his characteristics that we get the word “narcissism”, which means: Excessive self-love. We often think of young people as the ones who have to work their way through a stage of narcissism, but they are not the only ones. Sidle up to a group of elderly and eavesdrop on their conversation about surgeries, illnesses and tragedies and one can sometimes get a whiff of narcissism, a sense of their congratulating themselves for having achieved some kind of weird triumph.
In the series “Falling Skies” a character says, “It’s not how long we live, but how we live!”… and how we live arises out of how much and how well we know ourselves. Narcissism is not self-awareness; it is self-obsessiveness run amok. One of the characteristics of narcissism is an inability to empathize with other than the self and because the individual feels so special they also feel entitled to do whatever they desire; in this, narcissism does not recognize the word “NO!” I see a certain degree of unhealthy narcissism in our Mainland business culture in that we consumers view all of creation as being here for our benefit and for our consumption. This means that we can mine the earth and fell the forests at will, justifying this by saying that this will make money.
The Hawaiian approach to our role in the world is a very different one. In the Hawaiian view our role is to be stewards of creation, enabling it through our stewardship to attain its fullest possibilities. Even more than that, however, Hawaiians view the earth, the forests, plants, rocks and water and all life connected to these as Ohana, as family. In the Hawaiian view the first human arises from the Kalo plant, and this shows the intimate and familial relationship that Hawaiians see between humanity and all that exists upon and within the earth. Lest we think that this understanding is only a Hawaiian Creation myth, all one has to do is to look at the current struggle going on up on Mauna Kea on the Big Island in Hawaii. The struggle is between those who are beginning a mammoth multi-billion dollar Observatory project on the sacred mountain which involves bull-dozing etc, and those Hawaiians who are blocking the access roads in order to keep the equipment away from committing what they view as the rape of their Kupuna, their Grandmother. Those trying to protect this sacred mountain from succumbing to the Mainland’s “It’s there and we can do with it what we want” approach view themselves as “Protectors” and not as protestors; the police, unfortunately, do not see it this way as they arrest scores of them each day and haul them down off of the mountain.
I firmly believe that we have been, and continue to be, poisoned by a business culture that encourages us to be mindless consumers. As in the Garden of Eden the business snake hisses to us, “Try it, you’ll like it!” In my view being an unreflective consumer is like being a virus which eats its host; ultimately, it is an orientation which leads to our undoing as spiritual beings.