mirrorThe Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell) is a fascinating read: approaching narcissism as a widespread cultural problem, it details the causes and symptoms of loving oneself too much.

The end of the book discusses “Treating the Epidemic of Narcissism”; strikingly, self-expression is a pronounced “core value” in the U.S. The authors write it’s our cultural perception that “self-expression is necessary to establish one’s own existence . . . the importance of self-expression is enmeshed in our culture” (289). This is evident in my observations from a tiny corner of higher education, where as an English instructor, I’ve noticed students do indeed seem to value self-expression highly as a major reason for writing. English Composition students frequently are adept at writing about their feelings and opinions. This alone, of course, does not a narcissist make; expressing feelings and opinions can, indeed, be important depending on the circumstance; and youth probably can be blamed for some level of self-preoccupation.

But incoming freshmen ought to know that college will require looking outside the self and understanding a variety of perspectives. It will require the ability to, for instance, write an organized, thesis-driven essay with academic sources. It will involve long exercises in concentration and knowledge-gathering. It will require research into subjects that don’t always fascinate at the outset.

Self-expression isn’t necessarily bad, but education ought to demand more. It might be interesting to ponder the merits of what we learn thus:

Who benefits from a population rife with self-expression for the sake of self-expression, and who benefits from a population knowledgeable about history, government, geography, the arts, science, and math?

*Check out the book’s website here: http://www.narcissismepidemic.com/. Click the “Press” tab for a number of links on “narcissism in the news.”

*Book information: Twenge, Jean M. and W. Keith Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York: Free Press, 2009.

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