In Search of Truth I: Hubris and Narcissism
Narcissism and COVID-19
We propose that the narcissism associated with expertise regarding the corona virus resides in a similar distortion of responsibilities—a distortion that is heightened by the wide-spread anxiety and lack of confidence to be found among most of us operating in this pandemic era. As the consumers of the expert’s knowledge about COVID-19 we have a job similar to that of the child in a narcissistic family. We are to reaffirm this expertise (another closed system and positive feedback loop). The wellspring of this expert-based narcissism in the world of COVID-19 is based in uncertainty regarding our own competence. We may have such a low level of confidence about the virus that we don’t believe our own perspectives and concerns deserve any attention from other people. In the musical, Chicago, the husband of the major protagonist sings about being “Mr. Cellophane.” Other people look right through him. They don’t even realize that he is in the room—and he certainly can’t call attention to himself, given that he isn’t worth much. This route is sadly traveled by many people today. Do any of us deserve to be sitting at the table when ideas about the virus are being offered? If we are sitting at the table, aren’t we vulnerable of being declared a fool. Someone, like Don Quixote, who is masquerading as someone we truly aren’t (in this case, an “expert”)?
As non-experts and non (or low level) narcissists we can relate (painfully) to the story of Echo (a story which is often poignantly forgotten alongside the story of Narcissus). While wandering through the world (having been cursed by Hera), Echo encounters and falls in love with Narcissus. Left speechless and rejected by Narcissus, Echo flees and leaves her voice behind—forever. Are we similarly enthralled by the narcissistic credentials and eloquence of the virus experts? Do we set aside our own voice on behalf of the seemingly brilliant insights and wisdom of those who claim deep knowledge of the virus and its future? Once again, the question is posed: should we be sitting at the table and offering our own options (our voice). We believe that the answer to this question should be Yes! Each of us should be at the table (in our organization or community) when issues regarding the virus are discussed.
Relationships and Voice
When it comes to COVID-19, we should all be at the table and voice our concerns and perspectives. Yet, we stay away. Because the children in a narcissistic family are to attend to the needs of the parents (rather than the other way around), they grow up being reactive to the needs of other people and devote much of their time and attention to reflecting on what other people want (not just their parents). While this attention to the needs of other people is often appreciated in our society, the costs for the child reared in a narcissistic family are great. Ultimately, this obsessive other-directedness, according to David Riesman (2001), is a widely-found source of distress and alienation in contemporary societies—see his classic 1950s book called The Lonely Crowd as well as Whyte’s (Whyte and Nocera, 2002) study of The Organization Man. The same kind of uncritical conformity is to be found in our present-day reliance on the COVID-19 expert. We are desperately looking for relationships and are regressing to a more primitive state when confronting the profound, existential threat of the virus. Experts will protect us—and we must align with them to find this protection.