This piece was published in the Education section of Monday’s London Telegraph, and I could not have said it better. The global trend towards destructive narcissism and self-worship has sewn the seeds of what our societies are rapidly becoming – increasingly violent, unfulfilling and given to excesses from which we may not be able to recover. – Nate Clark
Selfies, ‘mindfulness’ and the destructive age of self-obsession: it’s too easy to blame the Internet
By Peter Tait
4 April 2016
“To do more for the world than the world does for you, that is success.” – Henry Ford
As our society contracts and fragments, with more and more people isolated in their own communities and families – or lost to the lure of the Internet – our response has increasingly been to look inwards in order to find the resources to cope.
This search for greater self-awareness through learning more about ourselves and ways to counter stress is now our default response to the pressures of modern life.
We are busy seeking self-improvement and well-being by all the pathways open to us, drip fed through the media, in the guise of articles on meditation and learning to cope, delivered by personal trainers, life coaches or even the Dalai Lama, all searching for some understanding of a world that is increasingly incomprehensible.
This is particularly true of our young who are better informed of global problems, such as climate change, war and poverty than previous generations, but many of whom are more traumatised, isolated and alone than ever before.
This is where ‘mindfulness’ comes in, with its aim of helping children cope with the world and make sense of it. In schools, mindfulness is now the new buzzword, helping children find that mental state of being aware of the present and keeping all else in proportion.
Self-awareness is seen as the antidote to all the stresses and pressures of life in the 21st century. After all, when we look at the incidence of depression and mental illness, suicide and crime, the isolated, the disengaged and the lost in our communities, something is clearly going wrong.
However, whether the solution to the pressures of modern life lies within each person is debateable, especially when many of the ills of modern life can be attributed to living online.
It is not easy to counter the exposure exacted by the selfie, by sexting, from the entrapment by social media that allows the individual to live virtually, to have a presence ‘out there’ while struggling with their ‘aloneness’.
Social media is awash with sites that encourage self-promotion, encouraging the promulgation of images and opinions that, surprise, sometimes come back to bite their author.
Add in reality television, endless self-improvement books and articles, role models who are rich and famous, and we have a generation pushing their profile, their looks, their wit and credentials as hard as they can without any thought for others, or their greater place in the world. No wonder they need help.
The trouble with the virtual world is that, while it is not real, for many caught up in cults, religions, quasi-political movements or as victims of abuse or bullying, it is all too real. Often its manifestations are to do with perception, but that does not protect children from getting caught up in the maelstrom of the Internet with all its savage anonymity.
But it is also too easy to blame the Internet for all the dislocation of young people from society; much of the responsibility lies with poor parenting, hand-wringing liberals who have closeted our young and made them ever more vulnerable; with successive governments that have done so little to monitor the use of technology by the young while deciding what is best to eat, think and, most alarmingly, teach our children and the dependent mind-set it promotes.
The problem is, in part at least, rooted in our obsession of self or, in the instance of parents, with the exclusivity of their children. As a result, the idea of society has contracted, its inhabitants more introspective, less caring of others and more concerned with looking after themselves and their own.
While Mahatma Gandhi’s words that, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” may seem idealistic and naïve, we would do well to reflect on this mantra in our schools.
So much of what we do encourages the cult of the individual, rather than the good of the community, more thinking about oneself than others.
Just as children need to learn values, so they need to learn the concept of being a small part of a larger whole. To get children to look outwards, we need to look after them better at a young age and pay attention to the concept of readiness in emotional terms and heed the dangers of children being asked to deal with emotional and societal issues before they are emotionally equipped to do so (and this includes aspects of sex education).
Choice, given to children at too young an age, is not helpful (and this includes anything from choosing their food, what television programmes they watch or even selecting the school they attend).
Two things we do in our schools have exacerbated the problem; the constant belief that children need to know about everything – birth, death, sex, drugs and health issues – before they can emotionally cope with such topics; and second, our promotion of children’s rights as enshrined in ‘Every Child Matters’, without any point of reference to the family, the community or society.
At the risk of criticising ‘mindfulness’ – which, after all, is a sacred cow, endorsed by Government – it is a belated response to a horse that has already bolted and, arguably, not that useful either when ‘taught’ in isolation.
Taught badly, (and how many teachers are equipped to teach it well?) it can arguably create more angst and introspection among children. Self-awareness is, of course, hugely important, but children, encouraged by adults, need also to look outwards and learn about the sensitivities and needs of others, even if just within their own families and schools.
We need to work harder … Keep Reading the Rest @: Selfies, ‘Mindfulness’ and the Destructive Age of Self-Obsession …