Humility vs. Naricissism: FIGHT!

Or: Self-Promotion and Keeping Perspective in an Increasingly Narcissistic World

Last Week on NPR I heard a story that disturbed me.  It was about a study that linked increasingly narcissistic Pop Music lyrics with an increasingly narcissistic culture.  That our culture today is increasingly narcissistic isn’t entirely news anymore.  It’s part of the world we live in. 

I was born smack in the middle of “Generation Me“, but my childhood was distinctly old school.  So at risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon constantly harkening back to a golden age that never was, I was raised to believe in other virtues.  Humility, for instance.  That’s a virtue that is completely at odds with the rampant narcissism of our culture.  It’s not really possible to be both humble and narcissistic, not in any cognitively meaningful way.  Isn’t that right?

There’s something else that seems at odds with the idea of humility, at first blush, and it strikes at the heart of what writers must do, and what successful authors have mastered: self-promotion.  And especially in the light of my “revelation” for this week: my first ever professional publication, this  has really been on my mind of late.  Is the “virtue of humility” truly at odds with the need for self-promotion?  Is it possible to navigate these narcissistic waters while keeping with a down-to-earth outlook?

And then, as if anticipating my ruminations on this topic, along comes this article in the New York Times on the subject of author self-promotion, and the long sordid history thereof.  Or more accurately, as if to mock my delusions of remaining humble while trying simultaneously to toot my own horn.  The article tells of what authors across the ages have done to make a name for themselves.  Famous authors of the past have done incredibly gutsy and even obnoxious things to get their name in the eyes of the public.  Celebrity endorsements were not uncommon. 

Today even Stephen King or Dean Koontz or JK Rowlling, the blockbusters of blockbuster writers, aren’t well-known for their “celebrity endorsements”.  Maybe that’s because our culture today celebrates a different kind of celebrity: sports stars and pop musicians and movie stars.  But the fact is that these days authors seem a great deal less in-your-face than the authors of the past, if in fact the sorts of stories highlighted in that NYT article were de rigueur.  Not that it has impacted the ability of the general public to recognize these big names.  Even non-readers know who King, Koontz, and Rowling are.  Maybe that’s because the quality of their work speaks for itself.  Or maybe that’s because they’ve ridden the wave of incredible buzz and effective PR.  Or maybe a lot of things.  To the unpublished (or even, maybe not unpublished, per se, but I certainly don’t have any books in print), the process by which fame and celebrity are accrued to well-known authors is a bit of a mystery.  There’s certainly PR, and money, and great writing involved in the equation.  But what’s the balance of it?  And how does an author’s public persona play into that equation, if at all?  Those aren’t all questions I can answer, yet, but I’ve been thinking about them just the same. Continue reading