Sometimes a simple facial expression can be like applying a giant, luminescent highlighter to a simple comment. I saw that illustrated by one of our grandchildren one Halloween evening years ago. For some reason, the start of his own Halloween trick-or-treating adventure was delayed that year, giving him a chance to help answer the door and hand out candy to a few other kids before leaving. After watching some of them rudely grabbing the goodies from the bowl before it could be offered to them, his little four-year-old face expressed something between shocked disbelief and profound incredulity as he looked up and said, “They didn’t even say thank you.” Not wanting to make his painful introduction to a growing cultural phenomenon worse, I didn’t tell the little guy that he might as well get used to it, because the attitude he witnessed that night was becoming a salient characteristic of the world in which he would be growing up.
An Earlier Example ~
Perhaps a similar sense of shocked incredulity moved the prophet, Isaiah, to lament about the absence of another basic element of social stability. In his case, it was the demise of truth and the consequent disappearance of real justice in the land. He said,
Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, And equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and …it displeased Him that there was no justice. Isaiah 59:14-15 (NKJV)
Foundational concepts in a culture do not die alone. Like pushing over dominoes, the failure of one affects others that are dependent upon it. Isaiah’s point is irrefutable. If truth is restrained, then there is no possibility of justice prevailing, truth being the foundation upon which justice rests. Without truth, right and wrong cannot be determined, and clear judgment is replaced by random, reactionary, and often impulsive conclusions. In the absence of truth, those who justice once protected are left as defenseless prey in a world where anarchy reigns and “might makes right.”
Another Cause-Effect Process ~
The selfishness and lack of gratitude that shocked our grandson that Halloween night illustrates the same cause-effect process that Isaiah applied to the demise of truth and the elimination of justice. On a national scale, we have been witnessing a marked decline in spontaneous expressions of genuine thankfulness and in its place, an increase in an attitude that psychologists define as “narcissism;” i.e., an inordinate focus on, and love for . . . self. The systematic demise of gratitude had been preceded by the disappearance of the foundation upon which it rests. If we could respectfully borrow Isaiah’s language, the situation could be expressed like this:
[Empathy] is turned back, And [gratitude] stands afar off; For [selfless expression of God’s love] is fallen in the street, and [empathy] cannot enter. So [gratitude] fails…
The behavioral symptoms of narcissism increase in direct proportion to the restriction of valid information about God and a lack of personal exposure to visible demonstrations of His love. When those things are systematically banned from the public square, expelled from the vast majority of academic institutions, and missing from most popular sources of entertainment and information, varying degrees of narcissism are all that’s left, and the salient characteristic of narcissism is a lack of genuine gratitude.
Effects of Narcissism ~
While Psychology Today is not known for providing supportive material for articles promoting Biblical principles, their comments about narcissism and its effects are worth repeating:
“A world full of narcissists would be a sad world indeed. We humans are, by nature, social animals; we absolutely depend upon one another’s goodwill and care. Narcissism is bad not just for society as a whole, but also for the individual narcissist. People high on this trait are often unhappy, angry at the world because of the world’s failure to recognize their superiority. They are generally incapable of forming the kinds of deep, meaningful, lasting relationships with others that we all need in order to live happy, emotionally secure lives.”
More and more, this “sad world” about which they expressed such concern is becoming a description of America. The article mentioned above went on to refer to a 30-year-long study exploring the issue of narcissism, and reported:
“…the data together reveal that the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing and the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing.”
Time to Push Back ~
The question is not whether narcissism is a prevailing characteristic of the popular culture today. The question is what do we do about it? Maybe this Thanksgiving season, with its special focus on highlighting things we’re thankful for, would be a good time to push back against the prevailing narcissism and begin to resurrect gratitude.
What if we made an effort to inject some fresh, life-giving, creative energy into our expressions of gratitude? Thanksgiving is, after all, interconnected with love in many ways, not the least of which is that if it can’t be defined by and observed in our behavior, then it probably doesn’t really exist at all. What if we made a practice of countering the “It’s all about me” attitude by developing ways to say “Thank you” without just mouthing the words? Here are just a few suggestions to start with . . .
- Gratitude in action can begin as simply as really listening to what others have to say, rather than just waiting for an opening to express our opinion.
- Practice looking for ways to contribute to someone else’s life instead of contemplating ways they can benefit us.
- Gratitude is more powerful when specific details are included and expressed in encouraging and personally uplifting ways. Rather than a general “thank you,” look for ways to say, “I noticed what you did, and it was an unexpected blessing.”
- And, when appropriate, we might even offer a small token that symbolizes our gratitude and acknowledges the specific way someone’s words or actions were helpful.
Identifying narcissism is easy, but psychologists have little success in treating it. That’s because it’s not primarily a mental health issue. It’s a spiritual “heart” issue. As we plan our holiday celebrations this year, let’s offer a narcissistic nation something better by making God’s love visible, gratitude observable — and hope invincible.
This Thanksgiving, may you and yours experience a heart of true gratefulness directed to the One who makes all our blessings possible . . . each day, every day.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “In the absence of truth, those that justice once protected are left as defenseless prey in a world where anarchy reigns and “might makes right.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The behavioral symptoms of narcissism increase in direct proportion to the restriction of valid information about God and a lack of personal exposure to visible demonstrations of His love.”@GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “(Narcissists) are generally incapable of forming the kinds of deep, meaningful, and lasting relationships with others that we all need in order to live happy, emotionally secure lives.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “ . . . if Thanksgiving can’t be defined by and observed in our behavior, then it probably doesn’t really exist at all.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
Check out Ron’s book, “Right Side Up Thinking in an Upside Down World ~ Looking at the World through the Lens of Biblical Truth”
Click HERE for details …
© 2019 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.