Tag Archives: pragmatism

The Ultimate Pragmatism

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

Narcissism is a choice. I realize that there are people who would disagree with me on this “diagnosis,” but I have neither read nor experienced any convincing evidence to the contrary. Maybe the choice was made long ago and has now become a pattern, a default, for the narcissist; but it is still a choice and the narcissist is both culpable for his/her actions and accountable for change.

Narcissists don’t change because they don’t want to change. Narcissistic attitudes and actions are useful to them, more useful than the alternatives. Even when faced with severe negative consequences, the narcissist will adapt and, through projection or blame, push away the change that is suggested. Some may make minor changes when their normal narcissistic behaviors become less useful, but those changes will be made for self-serving reasons, rather than any empathic concerns.

Perhaps we could say that narcissism is the ultimate pragmatism. It begins because it works and it is maintained because it works. And here’s a scary thought: it spreads because it works. Narcissistic behavior is becoming acceptable in business because it is easier and more productive. Empathy causes problems in business. Self-serving promotion is considered not only normal, but necessary. Cutting off relationships, using others, pushing blame and consequence to others, and enlarging personal accomplishments are all normal parts of business today.

Sadly, the same is true in many other areas of life. Narcissism–or the behavior associated with narcissism–is becoming normal in personal relationships, in churches and other organizations, and in social media. It may be because we have become a media culture, with young people learning life skills through television or other media. It may be because there are increasing numbers of us, and we all want to live in the same places. It may be because the last couple of generations of parents became more focused on themselves (perhaps for the same reasons) and young people have grown up in more of what we have called “dysfunctional” homes. Whatever the reason, a cursory glance at our culture would be enough to conclude that narcissism is becoming not only normal, but desirable.

Perhaps I don’t have to do any more convincing along this line. Perhaps it is so obvious that no one would disagree. Perhaps the qualities of narcissism—self-promotion, fantasy superiority, need for admiration, exploitation of others, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy or desire to care about the feelings of others—are so much a part of the normal lives of young people that no one especially thinks of them as problematic. When even those who are not narcissists accept narcissistic behavior as normal, the difficulty of dealing with those who hurt and use others may become insurmountable.

A culture of narcissism will only serve to validate and encourage the narcissists. Remember that they are the ones who have been doing this all their lives. They are very good at being narcissists. The pretend narcissists, the ones who want to use the narcissistic characteristics for their own gain, will soon find themselves being used and abused by the masters. The only real change is that the narcissists will no longer be seen as abnormal.

There is debate on whether Hollywood leads and promotes cultural change or simply reflects that change back to us. Dr. House was the narcissist we hated to love. The characters on House of Cards attract and repel us at the same time. The plot line of 50 Shades of Grey is surprisingly enticing in a culture that claims to stand against sexual abuse. None of these shows promotes the kind of culture that serves to lift people up and learn to love; yet they are increasingly popular and increasingly intense. We are being (or have already become) desensitized to narcissism.

Why? Because we are a culture that worships pragmatism. Whatever works. Whatever works to get me a job—lying, cheating, blaming, boasting—is worthwhile. Whatever works to make me feel good about myself—using others, cutting off friends in need, over-spending, dramatizing the events of my life—becomes important. We have been taught that our goals, even the sub-conscious ones, are more important than the truth or the relationships of our lives. And the way to accomplish our goals, in a narcissistic culture, is through narcissistic behavior.

So what do we do? I wouldn’t want to end this post on a negative thought. There are things we can do. First, don’t be surprised at what you see. The person who cuts you off in traffic probably hasn’t even thought about you or the fear you might feel. The friend who lies to make whatever points she thinks are important probably doesn’t even see the problem. Just because this is wrong and contrary to the values we hold does not mean that the behavior should surprise us or overwhelm us. Of all people, those of us who have dealt with narcissism should understand what’s happening around us.

In relationships, especially, we can call out the behavior. We still claim to hold positive values in relationships. So we have the right and responsibility to help others maintain those values. Narcissism still hurts others, no matter how normal the behavior seems. Hurting others is still not acceptable. Speak up against abuse and lying and cheating and compromised values. (And don’t feed the bank accounts of the 50 Shades people!)

But there’s more. We can smile more and be more kind. A thousand little acts of kindness to show the world that narcissism does not rule everyone. Affirm relationships. Tell people that you value them and are grateful. For so many, the characteristics of narcissism have been adopted because they are afraid or have been made to feel unimportant. Thank people. See people, especially those who have been invisible in the past. Do things narcissists wouldn’t think about doing, especially for the sake of others.

Here are a couple of simple examples. The next time you stay in a motel, thank the cleaners when you see them in the hallway and leave a tip with a word of gratitude. You just spent $150 on a room and you expected it to be clean. A couple of bucks might make someone’s day. Wave at the next police officer you see. Thank a nurse. Open the door for an older person. You know what I mean. Do little things that gain you nothing for people who may never connect with your life again. That’s not narcissism and it’s not pragmatic; it’s love.

We are called to be salt and light in a world of people who are afraid and want to be accepted. It costs us nothing to be kind and gentle and grateful. Let’s be anti-narcissists.

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The Master of the Call

The gospel of pragmatism has caused the fall of many Bible teachers, from television evangelists to pastors, even seminary and denominational leaders.  The continual focus on the call, the goal, causes a blindness to foolish decisions, to deceptive marketing, even to sinful behavior.  Churches and ministries overlook immorality or try to deal with it inside the organization.  They fear that the negative publicity would “hurt the ministry.”  Mishandled funds, mistreated people, misled followers—all must be kept “off the record.”

So what is really wrong with this?  It sounds right to be dedicated to a call.  God gives a special call to a person and that person should bind himself to it, right?  Wrong!  No disciple of Jesus is bound to a call.  We are bound to our Lord.  He is the focus of our hearts, not the call He has given us.  In fact, a case could easily be made from Scripture that the call of God would happen almost naturally for the person who follows the Lord.  The call is never the important part; the relationship is what is important.

When God told Moses that he would lead the people out of Egypt, Moses only had to do the next thing God told him.  Moses was not responsible for the success of the mission.  Moses does not get scolded for the people’s unbelief.  God was going to do this and He was going to use Moses.  When God sent Abraham to settle the new land, it was the same thing.  When David conquered the Philistines, Solomon built the Temple, and Nehemiah led the people back to the land—God made sure of the success.  It was God’s project.

We are often puzzled by the call of God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar.  But think about that in the context of this gospel of pragmatism.  Abraham had already shown himself to be the pragmatist, trying to accomplish the call of God in his flesh, by the birth of Ishmael.  But Isaac was the child that would begin a special people who would number more than the stars.  Isaac was the call, the goal.  Yet, Abraham had learned to look to God first.  He had made mistakes.  When God told him to sacrifice Isaac, it was the end of the call.  But Abraham had his eyes on the Lord, not the call.

Ask the leader of the movement what he would do if God told him to stop.  Ask the pastor what he would do if God told him not to build the new building.  And when an obstacle is discovered, immorality in leadership or embezzlement or something like that, and the leadership of the organization wants to cover it up to protect the ministry, ask why the ministry must keep going.  If they answer that God would never end the ministry or change the goal, they probably are no longer looking to Him.

Too often we have heard of church and ministry leaders who overlooked too much, who compromised too much, in serving their goal.  The precious ministry they protected with lies and cheating and stealing and covering up still died.  By taking their eyes off the One who called them, they opened themselves to error and sin and destroyed the very thing they believed they must protect.

 

When a believer receives a call and focuses on the goal, rather than the Lord, the implementation of the call is left to the flesh.  The person’s background and values interpret the call.  All kinds of personal preferences can become “principles” when the flesh interprets the call.

And the more the flesh is involved in the call, the more the person’s own sense of value will be tied to it.  Because the call is seen as his own and the interpretation of it is his and the energy in it is his, he cannot see a difference between the goal and himself.  No one else will be good enough to lead it.  Those who challenge the goal, challenge the man.

Finally, when the goal becomes a monument or affirmation of the man, he will protect it at great cost.  It must not die or even suffer loss.  He may do things for the sake of the ministry that are against his own principles and hurt people he truly cares about.  But he will see no choice.  And when it collapses, so will he.

 

The goal for any believer is to walk with the Lord.  When the Lord places a particular call on the heart of a person, the Lord Himself will accomplish it.  The person who is called is, in a sense, along for the ride.  The call is not the Lord.  The Lord is the master of the call.

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