When I left the monastery almost 14 years ago to serve as a Pastor in a parish, I was astonished to discover the extent to which society had become self-centered. It seems that every advance in electronics and communication has served to foster narcissism in our culture by fostering narcissism in us, the current craze for “selfies” being the most recent example. People on the highway act as if only they have a right to be there. Lord help the cashier who doesn’t move quickly enough to suit the customer! Every year, on that day after Thanksgiving now known as “Black Friday’, people riot, shoot, and stomp on one another in order to be the first to get to the trough of bargains. What has gone wrong?!
My thesis is that when commercial advancements become disconnected from morality those advancements… which could have served to enable humanity to grow spiritually… actually become the tools of its spiritual decay, a rot manifested in an increase in cultural and individual self-obessesion. The dictionary defines “narcissism” as: “Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance; extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.” Perhaps the best personification of narcissism that I have come across in my 65 years is the following actual event.
The founder and Curator of the Phallological Museum in Iceland had a problem: The Museum possessed a penis of every one of the mammalian species except the human. He desperately wanted to obtain that specimen for the Museum before he died so that he would know that the collection was complete. Somehow, a man in Texas, the proud possessor of a prodigious member… one of whose three previous wives dubbed it “Elmo”… heard about this and contacted the Curator, offering to make his donation while he was still alive. Needless to say, the Curator was ecstatic… at first. As negotiations proceeded, however, the Texan kept coming up with new stipulations for the donation. Finally, he offered to “harvest” (his word) not only his penis but also the testicles and the pubic area above the penis, have it all mounted with the penis erect, and then ship it to the Museum for display… with the one stipulation that the Museum display it for 6 months each year and then ship it back to the Texan so he could “admire” (his word) it for 6 months.
If any course of action of which I have ever heard qualifies as a living definition for the word “narcissism”, this is it. An interesting footnote to all of this was the Texan’s stating that he hoped people would not think badly of him for what he wanted to do because he was sincere in his desire to accomplish this. WHAT?!!! What kind of skewed moral thinking would assume that anything that we want to do is okay so long as we are sincere in our desire to do it? And yet, on a more minor level we all have some characteristics about ourselves… our own Elmo… which we also sincerely want displayed and admired by others, and in some cases we really Really REALLY want that admiration: Is this a good thing?
It is interesting to note that the mythological character Narcissus, from whom the word “narcissism” draws its meaning, so fell in love with his reflection in the pond that he was unable to leave the side of the pond, and eventually died in that spot. Apparently, despite our culture’s admiration of the “Self”, we are not sufficient for our own sustenance! Therefore, an increasingly important question for one’s growth becomes: Where… and in what… do we find that nourishment?
In the end, the Museum obtained a penis from a local Icelandic man when he died at the age of 95; the Texan was gravely disappointed that he cannot now be “first” and is looking for somewhere else to place Elmo.