Altruists and Narcissists

As a follow up to my last post containing the self assessment survey, I will outline several characteristics that differentiate altruists from narcissists. First of all, some definitions are in order, lest there be any doubt about these terms. An altruist is a person who has concern for other people’s welfare. He or she can be described as unselfish. A narcissist is someone who is self centered and often has an undeserved sense of self-importance. Most people, of course, fall someplace between these two extremes. However, the worst of times often separate people in ways that do not reveal themselves when times are good. For example, some people, when faced with a crisis (such as the recent pandemic, an earthquake, a recession, etc.), adopt an inward focus on “ME ME ME.” These people may have never before been known to be narcissistic, but when faced with uncertainty, they cry, whine, and moan about how they must, in order to survive, engage in an activity that most people would consider frivolous, whimsical, and completely unnecessary. These people have all sorts of justifications for their selfishly inward focus, none of which fool me in the least. On the other hand, there are people who, in times of trouble, place themselves in positions in which they can help other people who are less fortunate, thereby adopting an outward and altruistic mindset. For example, my longest term friend, Linda, recently told me that she volunteers her time to teach English to elementary school children whose parents do not speak English and that she was hoping to continue meeting the needs of these disadvantaged children during the time they are unable to attend school. Instead of sitting around whining about how much she misses singing in her church choir (and she really misses this!), Linda is focused on helping people who really, really need help. Is Linda an altruist or a narcissist? I think the answer is pretty obvious! Other friends of mine regularly go out of their way to help those in need. Roger and Janine have helped countless neighbors, all of whom were/are elderly and infirm, with shopping, chores, and more. I wish I could count the times Roger helped my Mom, but I can’t count that high! Altruist or narcissist? Again, pretty obvious! Then, there is my friend, Brenda, who, on a frequent basis, pays for groceries of people the store manager identifies as needy. She doesn’t even know these people and they never know the identity of their angel shopper. How about Brenda? Altruist or narcissist? Once again, obvious answer! I’m not going to ruin this post by mentioning examples of narcissism I have witnessed. I will leave it to you to decide if your personality tends toward one characteristic or the other. Just think about the last time you put someone else’s happiness above your own; that will guide your decision. Hmmm…

Givers or takers.  Perhaps that is another way to relate to this topic.  The world has too many examples of narcissists; it is easy to identify many of them in the political realm.  Because politics is public, it is easiest to see them, though narcissists are certainly not limited to politics.  Examples from the business world are often noticeable and even studied in the press or management literature.  And narcissism is not an exclusive trait of any particular political party.  To be sure, it takes a large ego to run for office.  One has to blow one’s own horn to get elected.  The question is, what do they do with the power when they get it?  Do they use it for their own benefit or for the benefit of the people they are elected to represent?  Are they out only for themselves, or do they want to benefit others?  As Melissa noted, there is a continuum, but some people seem to get stuck on the narcissist side of the needle and can’t turn back; they like it there.  Those people scare me!

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