Living in the Age of Entitlement
Jean M. Twenge, PhD
W. Keith Campbell, PhD
Publisher: Atria Books
First edition published: April, 2009
Reviewing non-fiction in our highly-politicized culture can be a real challenge. Finding a book with no ax to grind in the partisan wars is very much appreciated. Having said that, this book is in some ways an even bigger challenge, because it really makes us take another look at the world around us and reassess. We are in the throes of a BIG cultural shift, and a lot of the mystifying behaviors we see other people performing every day -- you know, the ones that make us think "What the heck is going on? WHY would anyone do that?"-- suddenly seem connected in ways we could not have imagined.
The book is just over a decade old. You'd think that some of the information would have found its way into the greater culture, and maybe some of it has, but from what I see around me, the issues are not only still there, but some of the book's predictions are sitting in front of my face when I look out the window, watch TV, or spend time on the 'net.
In some ways the title says it all. But all of us have our own definitions of what defines a narcissist, and rarely do we look in the mirror and ask the question, "Do I have those attributes too?" Since one of my reasons for doing all the reading I do is to find books that make people think, this one is high on the list. It makes us think about ourselves, the culture around us, and the possible futures we are creating for ourselves without realizing it.
One of the key discussions of the decade, at least among the general public, has been whether people need to have high self-esteem to succeed. It has been considered insensitive to point out any want of perfection in others, in the belief that such an action would cause stress and self doubt that would make the victim less able to cope. For the generation with parents who got themselves through the first depression with phrases like "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me" and "consider the source, and if you don't respect their opinion, ignore them," this attitude has been completely perplexing.
This book asks whether this new sensitivity, this new need to constantly buck up personal self esteem, putting the obligation on others to ensure that children and even co-workers never ever feel inadequate, is actually psychologically healthy.
It examines the unexpected side effects that happen when children feel so secure in themselves that they never self-examine, never self-question, and never listen to other views. At the time of its printing, it may have been seen as a bit of exaggeration, since for years it was commonly understood that children without self-esteem often had a difficult time of it, and some still bore the internal scars years later. But can there be too much of a good thing? Now that a sufficient amount of time has passed, and some of the predictions in this book have manifested in the real world around us, often in disturbing ways, the answer appears to be yes.
There are many spoilers I could include here but won't, because if I had my druthers, I'd insist this book be compulsory reading in high school, and would recommend it to all my friends, so I think it should be read, not summarized. And re-read. It makes us think, about ourselves and of the others around us that seem so hard to understand. Many elements go into our personalities, and this really is only one piece of the puzzle, but it's an important one. More critically, at least for the generations to come, it is something we can actually work to fix.