For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14: 7-14
I read recently that obesity is growing in our culture, but narcissism is growing even faster.
Narcissism is the term used to describe excessive vanity and self-centeredness. The condition was named after a mythological Greek youth named Narcissus who became infatuated with his own reflection in a lake. He did not realize at first that it was his own reflection, but when he did, he died out of grief for having fallen in love with someone who did not exist outside himself.
Narcissistic personalities are characterized by unwarranted feelings of self-importance. They expect to be recognized as superior and special, without necessarily demonstrating superior accomplishments. They exhibit a sense of entitlement, demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behaviors and display a strong need for admiration. Some believe their inflated self-importance has led to a disdain for those they feel are inferior, which might explain a rise in bullying among the young.
Some believe that our culture’s present narcissism epidemic, the fixation on indulging and exalting oneself, can be traced to the heyday of the self-esteem movement that baby boomer parents, teachers and media gurus promoted several years ago. Children were incessantly told things like: “Love yourself first” and “Believe that you are the best.” Rather than stoking healthy self-confidence, as was their intent, such messages may be responsible for a decline in the work ethic and a growth in feelings of entitlement and inflated egos.
We have all seen those bumper stickers that read, “My child is a third grade honor student at such and such a school!” A reaction to those well-intentioned attempts at “esteem building” may have already started. I saw a new bumper sticker on the car in front of me a few days ago that read, “My Golden Retriever is much smarter than your third grade honor student!”
The other extreme to narcissism is self-deprecation or the minimization and devaluation of oneself. Humility is about accepting the truth about who we are, without exaggerating it or minimizing it. “Humility” comes from the Latin “humus,” meaning “earth.” “Humility” means “grounded.” A truly “humble” person, truly in touch with his strengths and weaknesses, neither inflates his worth nor devalues it. Humility is ultimately about truth.
It is this truth that Jesus spent his ministry trying to teach. He taught it to the religious leaders of his day who were so arrogant and self-inflated that they started out talking about God and ended up thinking they were gods. He taught it to the marginalized of his day who were so beat down that they did not recognize their own goodness and the image of God within themselves.
We are called to be truly who we were created to be, no more and no less! As Mary herself said about God in that famous prayer we call the Magnificat, “He pulls the mighty down and lifts up the lowly.”