It’s difficult enough to get along in life as it is. The difficulty increases as we encounter the incivility in the world. This state of affairs tempts me to believe those pop psychologists who say we are experiencing an epidemic of narcissism.
I think it is unwise for people who are not psychologists or psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness. It’s better not to judge others and leave the psychological analyses up to the people who are credentialed in that field. It is wise to use simpler, basic words that won’t dilute the true meanings of clinical terms. Becoming an armchair shrink has the potential to cause more problems than not.
If someone is talking and behaving in a self-centered, rude manner, that is what is happening. The uncomfortable situation is not helped by imagining what the miscreant’s childhood traumas might have been. Mightn’t life be better if we take boorishness head on, at face value?
Much of what is going on is a simple lack of good manners and polite regard for the well-being of others. A self-centered, rude six-year-old child is not a narcissist; he simply has not integrated civility into his lifestyle yet.
Bigotry and dislike of people who don’t fit the “norm” begins in pre-adolescence when conformity is falsely valued by immature people. Some of us have failed to learn that society’s strength comes from valuing our differences.
Much, but certainly not all, of what popular pundits call narcissism is actually incivility. It is difficult to solve the problem of social rudeness by using psychobabble terms that distract us from the real problem. If we want civility in our society and our personal lives, we need to find ways to encourage true civility.
Many of us are rightfully worried about the seeming lack of civility in our political discourse. We have been listening to polarizing rants from popular media pundits for so long that we have adopted their cynicism as our own. We see how our public servants are no longer our servants but serve the interests of a selfish minority.
We see how the powers that be have forgotten the time-honored tradition of formal debate. Our highly paid politicians use insults and scapegoating to get their way. They should know better than to act like quarreling middle school pupils. They are in office to guide the ship of state by respecting our differences, guided by the nation’s highest values. Civility is one of those values.
To be civil is not to avoid disagreement. Civility is the manner of sharing our opinions. Screaming, interrupting, patronizing, grandstanding, stonewalling, or violently attacking people is not civility. Restraining our primal self-centeredness and sharing the national forum with others is a way of practicing civility.
Civility is not only nice manners; civility is all about honest respect.
It’s time to leave narcissism to the professionals. We need to find ways to encourage and practice civility.
The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this quote from Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner: “Unfortunately civility is hard to codify or legislate, but you know it when you see it. It’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.”