Egotism, egoism, solipsism, and narcissism.
There are fine distinctions between these decidedly un-Christ-like personalities. Let’s take a look.
While I’m not in favor of slapping a label on anyone, these characteristics came to mind recently when hearing some self-serving obfuscations of a certain world leader. The peculiarities of each of these may be illustrated this way:
“If I got fired from the company, all the work would stop”…That’s a solipsist.
He’s either the only one who matters or the only one capable of doing something that matters.
“If I got fired from the company, the quality of work would become pathetic”…That’s an egotist.
He may not be the only person, but he’s sure he’s the best person.
“If I got fired from the company, what will happen to me?”… That’s an egoist.
His approach almost always revolves around him (his future) as opposed to someone else’s (i.e. the company’s future).
“If I got fired from the company, then it must be because they envy my skills”… That’s a narcissist.
He honestly believes that his way is beyond reproach, and cannot fathom a reality in which he deserved to be fired. He will resort to twisting reality itself, before he even considers admitting personal flaws. Admitting defects is something a narcissist will never do. (For a more detailed description and derivation of narcissism see this.)
I’m not qualified to diagnose anyone’s antisocial behavior, let alone someone I only “know” from afar, to say nothing of the enormous log obscuring my best vision and preventing me from playing eye surgeon to anyone else. But I have been wondering if any or all of the above diagnoses might describe the personality of said politician. (In order to protect the guilty I won’t use any names, but his initials are the same as the condition of severe withdrawal symptoms––shaking, confusion, and hallucinations––that alcoholics experience when deprived of their preferred inebriant.)
In case the hint above doesn’t ring a bell, some of the things this person has said about himself might jar your memory:
- “I’m a very stable genius!”
- “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met!”
- “I know more than my generals!”
- “I alone can fix it!”
- “I am the smartest person in the room.”
- “Every one of these people is a stable genius, and I am by far stabler and more geniuser than any of them.” (I love that one!)
- “I’m, like, the most mature person in the country!”
- “I am a great Christian.”
Reminds me of Psalm 36:2 “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.”
What about judging and name-calling?
Rather than to label people, if necessary I prefer to identify a behavior. That is, rather than call someone a name like “fool” or “narcissist” my preference would be to say that he does foolish things or she displays narcissistic tendencies.
I don’t think Jesus prohibits such assessment of someone’s behavior when he commands us, “Do not judge.” After all, just a sentence or two later he tells us to discern the difference between a sheep in his own skin and a sheepskin with a wolf in it. He goes on to say that there’s a qualitative difference between a true prophet and false one, between sheep and goats, a true believer and a mere behaver. (Matthew 7)
Those who claim that any form of moral discrimination is a sin, refute their own argument, because they judge others for judging. It is not judging per se, but self-righteous judging that Jesus prohibits. That is, there’s a difference between making a moral judgment and being judgmental.
On another occasion Jesus warned, “Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.” (John 7:24) “Right judgment” is not pronouncing judgment on someone. Distinguishing right from wrong and damning those who do wrong are not the same. To correct is one thing, to condemn, another.
That said, let’s veer away from name calling, i.e. “he’s an egoist” or “she’s a narcissist.” After all, labels are too small and humans are too big to fit inside them. We’re just too complex to be accurately described by a label. Yet, as I said, we might find ourselves or someone else acting like one or more of these anti-Christ attitudes.
In other words, someone’s behavior might warrant being called “narcissistic” or “egoistic.” That way we identify the behavior and not label the person as “a narcissist” or “an egoist.” Make sense?
An altogether different thing than self-confidence
Someone said to me, “All politicians are narcissists.” That’s just not true. Self-confident, strong sense of self, bold, even proud? Yes. But take another look at the definitions of the sociopathic personalities above and I think you’ll see the difference.
Michael Gerson points out this individual that I have in mind seems to have a “bottomless need to project himself as wealthier, stronger, smarter and better than he actually is.” Behaving this way is not necessarily an indication that he actually possesses great qualities but that he knows he doesn’t and is afraid for others to know it too. Problem is, we already know it, and many are just not willing to break rank with our party and admit it.
These behaviors are not just a stronger form of ambition, but as Gerson indicates, they are a “different and distorted way of perceiving the world. Part of psychological wholeness — and of responsible political leadership — is the ability to consider reality from someone else’s perspective. But [this man] seems incapable of escaping the small, dark cell of his own immediate needs and desires.”
The antithesis to this is humility. As a reminder, here are a few of my favorite passages on the subject:
- “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought”
- “Pride comes before a fall”
- “Consider others better than yourself”
- “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”
While I am not suggesting that you offer a psychiatric diagnosis or slap a label on this certain unnamed world leader, I wonder if you have an unofficial estimation of his behavior?
- None of the above.
And does it matter? Should we expect (and vote for) someone better than this?