It’s All About…

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/11/131991083/it-s-all-about-me-but-is-narcissism-a-disorder?sc=fb&cc=fp

I came across the above article today, and found it fascinating.  In truth, it’s one of the reasons why I left modern secular culture in favor of Orthodox Judaism.

That said, I’ve even had a problem with this concept in the Jewish world.  We’re not supposed to be narcissistic, of course–we’re supposed to love our neighbors and do chesed (1) and not judge and share in each other’s joys and sorrows and remember that we’re all children of G-d and nobody is perfect.  But, I feel like we in the newly-frum (2) world have a problem with that.  When you’re really new to all of this, it does end up being all about you, as in “Rabbi, how should I ___?” (keep Shabbos/keep kosher/study Torah/integrate into a community/find a job/find a spouse/raise my kids/etc.)  But unfortunately, says one of my rabbis, a lot of BTs (3) have a hard time integrating the rest of it.

And honestly, I include myself in that group (even though I’m not actually a BT).  Even this blog has largely become all about me.

I mean, to be fair, I can’t write much about other people because of concerns such as privacy and loshon hora (4) and such.  And given my general audience, I’m not sure that giving over everything I’m learning in seminary would be so appreciated, so I stay away from that as well.  (Also, this blog was created in part to give family and friends regular updates.)

But still.  I feel like this blog is starting to become an exercise in narcissism, and that’s definitely not a good thing.

Anyone have any ideas for other blog entry topics?  (And please don’t ask for pictures–in addition to the privacy problem of posting pictures of people and places on here, my silly camera is still not working.)

Thank you all for putting up with my ramblings…. 😉

(1) chesed: acts of kindness

(2) frum: Yiddish word meaning “religious”; refers to Orthodox Jews.

(3) BTs: “baal teshuva”s: people who came from a non-Orthodox background and became frum 😉

(4) loshon hora: literally “evil speech,” refers to gossip and other unflattering (and forbidden by Jewish law) conversation.

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One Response to It’s All About…

  1. David Schwartz says:

    Fair concern. I wouldn’t be excessively concerned about the issue of narcissism, though, as much as it is good to keep it in your mind. Here are a few reasons why:

    1. Pirkei Avot 1:14 – “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me.” This comes before the next part, “But if I’m only for myself, what am I”. You have to take a self-interest; just as excessive narcissism is not good for oneself, it’s unhealthy to swing too far in the other direction in an effort to root out any traces of narcissism.

    2. Maimonides (unsure of the source) – “If a man finds that his nature tends or is disposed to one of these extremes…, he should turn back and improve, so as to walk in the way of good people, which is the right way. The right way is the mean in each group of dispositions common to humanity; namely, that disposition which is equally distant from the two extremes in its class, not being nearer to the one than to the other.” So, here we have a vote for moderation, for the Golden Mean. Again, being too narcissistic is bad, but being not sufficiently self-interested is also not good.

    3. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 – “For my sake the world was created”. This has been adopted by the Mussar movement as well. Rabbi Simcha Bunan of Peshischa (whom the Kotzker Rebbe was a follower of) said, “Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ But, when feeling high and mighty, one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ ” Same idea as the other two – balance and moderation in the issue of narcissism.

    Moreover, to not write about yourself and your thoughts would be false advertising and lying (Ex. 23:7). People signed up for this blog to read about you and your adventures and your thoughts. That’s what we want to know about. In a way, by reading about you then we are able to spend some time not being “narcissistic” ourselves.

    Ee bayit eyma, If you’d like I can say that your blogging is not an exercise about you, but rather that you are the eyes through which your readers look out on the world you live in. Just as a news reporter does not report out of narcissism but merely to explain what happened, you are simply explaining what happened, in situations which happened to involve you. For instance, you are simply explaining to your readers that there is a world of generosity and interest in others when you tell us about people trying to find you a shidduch. OK, so they happen to be trying to find a shidduch for you. The point, though, is that this is something in your world now which you find to be an interesting experience. If you thought that it wasn’t interesting, you wouldn’t be telling us (like, you haven’t told us that people breathe in Israel, because we don’t need to learn this when we have assumed it already). Because you are telling us about the experience, we are learning something about the culture you are in.

    If you want to tell us readers more details about your world in which you are merely the reporter and you are reporting on situations in which you don’t feature, fine. Many of us readers (I am guessing) have not spent as much time in Israel as you have, and so posts about “This is what Israel is like”, or “This is what my Israel is like” would be appreciated too.

    I should point out also that the NPR article was about clinical narcissism. According to the head of the Psych department at Georgia (quoted in the article), “You can’t help yourself but try to get attention or seek admiration,” Keith Campbell says. “It interferes with your life. … [I]t distorts your decision-making. It destroys your relationships.” I’m pretty sure that you are not at that point. Moreover, Campbell goes on further to say that non-clinical narcissism “is a manifestation of normal personality.” This logically leads to the idea that not only would swinging too far away from narcissism be against Judaism (or at least against Mishnah, Maimonides and Mussar as I understand what they are saying), it would also be psychologically an indication of a personality disorder.

    And in the end, as you said in your original post, “Nobody is perfect.”

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