The virtues of self-ab­sorp­tion

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY DAVID BROOKS

You prob­a­bly want to be a good per­son. But you may also be com­pletely self-ab­sorbed. So you may be think­ing, “There is no way I can be good if I’m also a nar­cis­sist. Isn’t be­ing good all about car­ing about other peo­ple?”

But how wrong you are!

We live in a cul­ture of self­ism – a cul­ture that puts tremen­dous em­pha­sis on self, on self-care and self-dis­play. And one of the things we’ve dis­cov­ered is that you can be a very good per­son while think­ing only about your­self!

Back in the old days peo­ple thought moral­ity was about liv­ing up to some ex­ter­nal stan­dard of moral ex­cel­lence. Abra­ham Lin­coln tried to live a life of hon­esty and courage.

But now we know this is ac­tu­ally harm­ful! In the first place, when peo­ple hold up ex­ter­nal stan­dards of moral ex­cel­lence, they of­ten make you feel judged. These peo­ple make you feel sad be­cause you may not live up to this stan­dard. It’s very cruel of them to make you feel trou­bled in this way!

The sec­ond prob­lem with these ex­ter­nal stan­dards is that they are very hard to re­late to. Peo­ple are al­ways talk­ing about how Nel­son Man­dela came out of prison and tried to usher in an era of for­give­ness and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. That’s all very well and good for Nel­son Man­dela, but what does this have to do with your life?

If peo­ple are talk­ing to you, shouldn’t they be fo­cus­ing their at­ten­tion on your life? Shouldn’t they be say­ing things you can re­late to? If some­body starts talk­ing about some grand hero who is dead or lives far away, you should just re­spond, “Sorry, that’s not re­lat­able.”

The good news is that these days we don’t base our val­ues on moral ex­cel­lence. We base them on mean­ing. Peo­ple are al­ways say­ing they want to do things that have “mean­ing.”

One great thing about mean­ing is it’s all about the emo­tions you your­self al­ready have. We say that an ex­pe­ri­ence has mean­ing when that tingly mean­ing­ful feel­ing wells up in­side. Pic­ture your­self shop­ping at a farm­ers mar­ket where ev­ery­thing’s lo­cally grown. Do you feel the tingly mean­ing­ful feel­ing welling up in­side?

So now you are prob­a­bly won­der­ing what you can do to get the tingly mean­ing­ful feel­ing in­side.

First, you want to feel in­dig­nant all the time. When you are in­dig­nant, or woke, you are show­ing that you have a su­pe­rior moral aware­ness. You don’t have to ac­tu­ally do any­thing. Your in­dig­na­tion is it­self a sign of your own good­ness.

Sec­ond, you want to make your­self heard.

You want to put up a lawn sign that says, “Hate is not wel­come here” or wear a T-shirt that says, “Stop the Vi­o­lence.” By putting up a lawn sign that ev­ery­body else in your neigh­bor­hood al­ready has, or wear­ing that T-shirt that all of your friends al­ready wear, you are tak­ing a stand and dis­play­ing who you are.

The third thing you want to do is tell your story. It wasn’t easy to come up with feel­ings as good as your feel­ings. You had to go through a lot. You want to in­spire oth­ers by shar­ing about your­self. Some­times you have to keep talk­ing about your­self even though other peo­ple, self­ishly, keep in­ter­rupt­ing and try­ing to talk about them­selves.

I hope this col­umn helps you lead a more mean­ing­ful life. But re­mem­ber: You’re al­ready per­fect just the way you are!

Fol­low David Brooks on Twit­ter: @nyt­david­brooks

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