Posted September 20, 2015
Our Overstimulated Grandiosity -- and our Impoverished Symbols
There are now more than seven billion people on this
earth and each one of us feels that he or she is the center of the universe.
That accounts for most of the problems we have in the world, in our
neighborhoods, and in our families.
And no one's to blame for this, save
God perhaps, for making us this way. Each of us is created in the image and
likeness of God, meaning that, each of us, holds within a divine spark, a piece
of infinity, and an ingrained knowledge of that unique dignity. We are infinite
souls inside a finite world. To paraphrase St. Augustine, we are made for the
divine and our hearts aren't just dissatisfied until they rest there again,
they're also grandiose along the journey, enflamed by their own uniqueness and
dignity. God has made everything beautiful in its own season, Ecclesiastes tells
us, but God has put timelessness into the human heart so that we are out of sync
with the seasons from beginning to end. We're overcharged for this planet, and
we know it.
Moreover that sense of specialness lies at the center of our
awareness: I think, therefore I am! Descartes was right: The only thing we can
be absolutely sure of is that we exist and that our own thoughts and feelings
are real. We may be dreaming everything else. We awake to self-consciousness
aware of our specialness, frustrated by the fact that the world cannot give us
what we crave, and insufficiently aware of the fact that everyone else on this
earth is also equally unique and special. That's human nature and it's always
been this way.
Today however a number of things are conspiring together to
exacerbate both our grandiosity and our restlessness. In brief, today we are
mostly overstimulated in our grandiosity and are not generally given the tools
to handle that inflammation of soul.
How are we overstimulated in our
grandiosity today? Various factors play together here, but contemporary media
and information technology need to be highlighted. Through them, in effect, the
whole world is being made available to us during every waking minute of our
lives. We are not easily equipped to handle that. While information alone is
mostly neutral, and at times even morally inspiring, the downside is that
contemporary media overstimulates our grandiosity and restlessness by inundating
us with the intimate details of the lives of the rich, the famous, the
beautiful, the talented, the powerful, the super-intelligent, the
mega-achievers, and the perverted in a way that titillates, seduces, and at
times assaults our interior balance so as to leave us cultivating private
fantasies of grandiosity, of standing out in a way that makes the world take
notice. We see this in an extreme and perverted form in some of the mass
shootings that occur in our society, where a lonely, deranged person randomly
kills others out of sick vision of grandiosity. We see it too in the growing
phenomenon of anorexia. These examples may be atypical, but we're becoming a
society within which most everyone is perilously overstimulated in his or her
And today we are generally without sufficient personal tools
to handle this. Human beings have always been restless and grandiose, but in
previous generations they had more tools -- religious and societal -- to handle
restlessness, grandiosity, and frustration. For example, in previous generations
the cultural ethos gave people much less permission to cultivate ego than it
does today. Previous to our own generation, one had to be more apologetic about
self-promotion, self-canonization, overt greed, and crass self-centeredness.
Humility was espoused as a virtue and no one was supposed to get too big for his
or her britches. That threw a lot of cold water on ego, crass self-assertion,
and greed, in effect dampening grandiosity. The message back then was clear:
You're not the center of the universe!
By and large, that's no longer the
case today. Society, more and more, gives us license to be grandiose, to set
ourselves up as the center and proudly announce that publicly. Not only are we
allowed today to get too big for our britches, we aren't culturally admired
unless we do assert ourselves in that way. And that's a formula for jealousy,
bitterness, and violence. Grandiosity and restlessness need healthy guidance
both from the culture and from religion.
Today, we generally do not see that
We are dangerously weak in inculcating into the consciousness of
society, especially into the consciousness of the young, a number of vital human
and religious truths: To God alone belongs the glory! In this life ultimately
all symphonies remain unfinished. You are not the center of the earth. There is
real sin! Selfishness is not a virtue! Humility is a virtue! You will only find
life by giving it away! Other lives are as real as your own!
We have failed
our youth by giving them unrealistic expectations, even as we are depriving them
of the tools with which to handle those expectations.