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February 2017

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Social Media Narcissism: It’s Not the Kitchen’s Fault When a Meal is Poisoned

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I had a great conversation over coffee the other day about social networking. My friend recently disengaged from any online activity for a variety of reasons including but not limited to anger, passive-aggressive behavior, meanness, bullying, hurtful sarcasm, name calling, and narcissism.

At times, I’ve thought about disengaging for some of the same reasons. Then I’m reminded of the beautiful, healing, life-giving conversations I have in these platforms and how many of my relationships have been strengthened through social media engagement. So, I press on. Which can be painful at times. Not only because I see all the things my friend pointed out but also because I have been the recipient of some of it.

So, I’m gathering my thoughts. I’m praying. And, I want to start talking about the issues—not to vilify them—but to depower them. Social Networking is not going away. It will keep reinventing itself. And, I believe God wants to redeem every iteration.

I want to start talking about these problems and opportunities more. In order to seek to understand and invite conversation. So that God might better use me. And you.

To invite conversation, the following is from, Follow You, Follow Me. I wrote this in 2012 and I think it’s even more real in 2017.

Not too long ago a friend of mine tweeted “Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his.” If you need a brief reminder of Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and died staring at his own reflection. This is where we get the word narcissism that describes an “inordinate fascination with oneself.”

My friend was only partly right. The story of Narcissus is one where he was indeed renown for his beauty. But my friend was on to something very important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the only reason Narcissus knew he was beautiful is because people defined him as such over and over again. He believed it because people told him it was so and he told himself it was so.

Nemesis was the goddess of revenge and retribution. When someone succumbed to hubris or pride that was an offense to the gods, Nemesis stepped in. It was Nemesis who led Narcissus to the pool knowing that his fascination with himself was a blind spot. A weak spot. A spot that Narcissus was not readily aware of.

In Narcissus’ case, it was his own pride that killed him. A pride he was blind to or at least chose to dismiss. This is also the case with the rest of us.

Bob Dylan’s “License to Kill” indirectly references Narcissus in a poetic and potent way:

         Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool

         And when he sees his reflection he’s fulfilled

True narcissists put themselves and their loved ones at great risk. Studies show (and maybe you have experienced in yourself or loved ones) that narcissists have a greater tendency to become impatient, anxious, angry, depressed, lonely, and violent. Narcissists tend to suck the self-esteem out of those they are in relationship with and seed a dose of despair and alienation in those they allow to be closest to them often resulting in infidelity and terminated relationships.

Narcissists often create their own reality where they feel there are more eyes on them than actually are. They often spiral when they feel they are unable to live up to other people’s expectations of them that may in fact be exaggerated or imagined expectations on their part. Unable to live with their own failures, narcissists often self-destruct and fall prey to all kinds of addictions including drugs, alcohol, and pornography.

Many times, the narcissist will not take responsibility for their own actions believing they are either invincible, or beyond reproach, or that other people are at fault for making them the way they are, or all of the above.

Within every one of us lay the ingredients for the making of a narcissist. A dash of pride, and cup of unchecked spirit, a slice of a lack of accountability and time on our hands are a great start.

The world of Social Networking can be a perfect kitchen for putting these ingredients together if we are not aware of the dangers. But remember, the ingredients exist in many a kitchen because we take the ingredients with us wherever we go. We shouldn’t fear entering this kitchen. It’s not the kitchen’s fault when a meal is poisoned.

Follow You, Follow Me. 2012. Abingdon Press. p125

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