A friend of mine, a retired NYPD chief, and I were entering a charming Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s fashionable East side, and looking forward to a relaxed Sunday Brunch, when we were assaulted by a wall of loud, brassy, screaming, shrieking humanoid sounds. There were groups of youngish people, mostly female, who seemed to be competing with each other in advertising to the world how happy they were and what a great time they were having. It thrills me to see human beings enjoying the gifts of God. But must it be on such a painful decibel level? It was as if we were hearing Shakespeare pondering again that "...me thinketh the woman protests too much..." If one is profoundly content, must such a person loudly broadcast his great inner contentment with self and life? Whom is he trying to impress or persuade? A further sadism occurs when some people periodically pierce the shrieks with a weird high “C” screech which is apparently meant to be some kind of quasi orgasmic laugh signaling, I suppose, the height of delight at being the center of attention.
Why, in heaven’s name, is there existent such a most repulsive human trait which is so given to posturing and fakery? Does it really shout out how much interior human shakiness pervades our societies? What drives a frail self esteem to plaster onto its most visible component--the face—the phony persona of exuberant joy? It becomes particularly nauseating when the plasterer is a female on the brink of early middle age desperately trying to play the role of the ingénue. One of the shriekers had a persona so beaten into facelessness by frantic years of oiling and creaming and manipulating that she had no authentic or real look. She had only a kind of “tabula rasa” onto which she was straining to paint the image of a bright carefree delightful young thing. The only reaction I got was an impulse to upchuck!!
However, when one observes the current social ills of booze, drugs, obsession with the sexual, consumerism expectation, craving to be “hip”, self fulfillment psychologies, superficial commitments, one further speculates on a possible link between two areas: 1) the myopia of the Page 6 mentality of the modern media and 2) inappropriate behavior like Restaurant shrieking.
Do they feed on each other? I recall that when the Soviet Union was at the zenith of its influence, Stalin’s Propaganda minister noted that "he who is in control of the mimeograph rules society." Update "mimeograph" to Internet, sitcoms, computer and major media and you may have the unhappy application and consequence in this era. Even social behavior is determined by the modern "mimeograph." What’s in? What’s acceptable? What’s the present fad?
Does modern media promote or feed into an excessive dimension of the narcissistic? Are we nurturing a "me first" mentality? Are we dumbing down to a national level of low frustration? Is it the rule of "I got mine, Mac"? I am very well aware and deeply impressed by the pockets of generosity and bravery and sacrifice and industry and chivalry in our country. I know and have been the beneficiary of goodness of fellow Americans. Yet, I have a most uncomfortable sense of a growing impatience with the "other guy"—especially if the other guy is just a "little" guy. The little guy can be the poor or the meek or the old or the uneducated or the gullible or the weak. But I am getting a general sense of non-concern about others or future generations. A sense of selfishness seems more apparent to me than in the previous generations I have known. Is it that I am 90 years old that I write this? Or is it possibly the factual case? Was it like this in 1930 in the depression? Maybe, but there was, I recall, greater sense of the other guy . There was ,I think, more generous sharing of the little we had. Was it like this in the greatest generation in World War II? Maybe, but as I recall my past in that era I think it was generally more caring and helpful for the "guy who was down."
But is my own impatience with the shriekers in restaurants a sign of my own narcissism? When I hear that some restaurants are barring children under six years of age because the kids’ screaming bothers some diners, I feel a sense of agreement. Am I just as bad as the ghouls I met at brunch? Does the kicking, complaining and whining of the little kids at the next table get to me and decrease my enjoyment of my meal? Am I justified or am I slipping into Page 6 myself?
Of course there is a substantive difference between the normative squawking of babies and the nauseating falsity of inadequate young adults even if the external symptom is similar. Little kids are congenitally and understandably narcissists but adults are supposed to have outgrown the "id" drives which Freud so brilliantly illustrated. Is a quarter of a century enough time or does it take a lifetime to grow up?
What does all of this mean? Is it signaling a massive—perhaps—global immaturity? A massive generational arrested development? Or is it endemic? A constant reminder of the residual of Original Sin? Or has this tendency always been there? Does it just assume a different form with each successive generation? If the Catholic Church is right in her anthropology or understanding of human nature, then the answer lies somewhere in the spiritual life. In the awareness of God’s love for everyone. That the love cannot be earned but only responded to! That there is no need to convince everyone that one has value. The fact of being alive is proof enough and should be enough for the adult thinking person. There is no absolute need to have the world acknowledge one’s worth. While it is pleasant, approbation of others is simply not enough. It is, rather, the deep sense of inner peace that God the Father loves me and that God the Son died for me personally and that God the Holy Spirit is with me always in my inner self guiding, directing and loving me.
With such an understanding of reality, one has a reasonable shot at reaching that wonderful state of being which is difficult to define but is usually called happiness. Perhaps no word really can describe it—only feelings can know it. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich when asked to describe why he became a Catholic simply said that after he received the Eucharist, he experienced the deepest inner peace he has ever known. Is that it? Does a deep feeling of being loved by the Almighty alleviate that deep wound of narcissism? Is that wound healed (somewhat) by a pervasive awareness that one’s value depends not on what one does or what one has but basically on what one is? Would my shriekers and whatever human repulsive tendency any of us might have be softened by such an experience? I suspect so but maybe, in the spirit of brotherly love, I should suggest it (to myself) the next time those louts disturb my meal! It would be probably better for me and my gastric juices. I’ll bet I would enjoy the pasta even more so! Once again God’s way pays off!