Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What about ME? (A guest post by Bana Bashour)

I was recently sitting at a café in Miami when two teenaged girls walked past me with similar t-shirts saying: “I love ME”. It was obviously a play on the I love NY t-shirt, so I wondered why these young ladies felt they had to express their affection towards the Middle East. Was it out of solidarity? Out of concern? Was it that the recent developments in Egypt and Tunisia moved them so much that they had to express their admiration for that part of the world? It was only then that I realized that ME was not an acronym. These young ladies were simply expressing their affection towards themselves, and doing it so the whole world would see.

That is not a surprising image in the 21st century. Facebook and Twitter provide the ideal forum for people to share every detail of their lives, every mood they are going through and every meal they have eaten. In fact, they are so encouraged by others who “like” their statuses (the likers were probably referring to themselves and their own feelings towards the relevant experience/mood/meal). It’s not a bad thing to love oneself, it may not even be a bad thing to be self-centered, for after all, our “self” is the only lens through which we can see the world, and having a better understanding of this “self” enables you to understand the world and other people better. So what’s the problem?

In this day and age, understanding oneself has ceased to be an instrument for understanding the world in general and other people in particular. It has become the focus of most of our attention, one may argue to a crippling degree. Personal relationships, romantic ones or even simple friendships have taken on a different form, one in which each keeps asking herself: “what am I getting out of it?”. If the answer to this question ceases to satisfy her, she immediately ends it justifying it by claiming that it is somehow impeding her flourishing. But that is not the main problem: People are less able to empathize with others, making other people’s suffering less and less relevant to them. Most recently, one may note the paranoia of “toxic rain” from the meltdown of the nuclear power plant in Japan. We have somehow made the heartbreaking disaster of many people in a very distant land something about us. This shift of focus is often frightening, for if one mentions even a minor way some other man’s tragedy can affect your life, you can’t stop thinking about that, forgetting all about the tragedy. This is making people much less sensitive to other people’s suffering, be it the near ones or the far.

It is unsurprising that people love self-help books, and why The Secret was such a big hit. Constant scrutiny and careful examination are extremely useful epistemic tools, but they need to find a worthy object to be used on. Your “self” is not one of them.


Hiba Itani said...

I guess it's just how fast the world is going, and how competitive it's becoming. A BS degree is like a highschool degree in the old days and to get it you need to be "above the average". Everything about this encourages people to care about themselves only.
I'd better hope for half the population to fail so that I'd be above the average. This also happens in work and everywhere and it's only getting worse. Maybe it has to get worse before it gets better, I don't know. Eventually, when caring becomes a weird concept people might rediscover its joys.
Anyway, I like your sister's blog. Keep it up.

Lama Bashour said...

I agree. I think we are living a very narcissistic era, where someone dies on your birthday and the first thing that comes to mind is "Why does these things always happen to me?" The question is, will we ever be able to go back?

Khaled said...

I agree with the idea that people are generally narcissistic. What I don't agree with is that it's something specific to our current era.

What I also don't agree with is that it's any more a bad thing than our innate love for our children and our families. I think the love of oneself and the pursuit for personal happiness is one of the most powerful driving force for human progress, be it social or technological. Every marginalized social group that ever stood up for its rights did so on the grounds that they deserve more than what society has given them. How one can believe that without having a deep love and respect for oneself is beyond me.

Hiba Itani said...

I think Khaled is right in the sense that caring about your children is like caring about yourself in a way, because you are making a distinction between people, as in one is more worthy of attention let it be you, your children, or your nation.

It's not related to one era, and it's not a bad thing really. It's human nature to love and give attention to himself/his children/his origin and that's all fine and good. I think Dr Bana made that point, but it's only bad when people care about themselves and think the rest of this world is either good or bad for them(ie: thinking that it's all about them all the time). I think it's natural for people to relate to others and care about them but they push that feeling away because everything about their society tells them that, and they are slowly starting to think that's all about them and it's just the norm. Now that is bad.
As for Lama's question, I really think that we can and will go back, because it's getting really bad and people will reach a point when it's just too much to take. Also because caring about others besides you is not something someone teaches you, it's kind of build in and unless you intentionally push that feeling away through a certain mentality you will always relate to other people's problems and feel like they are yours as well.

Brice said...

I concur, Facebook lets everyone cultivate some autistic, "everyone swims in their own lane", attitude. I agree that their effectiveness atn maintaining social bounds is quite relative

Now I would ask a further question to further the debate, but the Ph.D. certificate I'm having mailed from Lusaka University has not been delivered yet ;-)

NICOLE said...

I agree with khaled on most of the issues discussed. Narcissm or the love of one self has been around for ever and I don't think that it is related to the new era.I had a grandmother who loved herself more than she loved her own kids and my mother seems to be going in that direction too.I think Narcissm is like alcoholism .it is more like a personality trait , you either have it or not. The only difference between this era and the old generation is that Narcissm is more accepted now than ever. I Love ME is the hype now.It is everywhere,in ads on tv,teeshirts and billboards .All about me is the new accepted thing. The society encourage teenagers to be in love with themselves .T make a long story short you are either A Narcisst or not .nothing wrong with being either one, just follow your feelings and if you are a Narcisst don't try to change ,thinking that it is better for the society and relationships in general.Don't try to be somebody you are not,believe me it doesn 't work.I have 2hands and ten fingers and none of them is the same. Every single one of us is different and sorry to say nobody is perfect .