23. A little less conversation and a little more action. Please.


I look good, don’t I? Unfortunately, it’s all I do.

There are more pictures about than ever before. The digital revolution means that an almost infinite number of images can be created, stored and accessed within seconds. Its easy to see that the introduction of video recording has proved to be a hazard for narcissists, being massively more versatile than mirrors or pond surfaces. People can video themselves all day long and send the videos to the friends they inevitably don’t have. Yet it is only 150 years or so since artists relied on watercolour and charcoal for a flattering self portrait. People who like to look at themselves have plenty more opportunity nowadays, plus Photoshop.

Narcissus himself fell in love with his own reflection and somehow died. There was no coroner’s inquest in those days, but legend has it that he was tricked into this by a vengeful goddess, after he spurned the advances of a local nymph.

Since then everyone knows ponds – and nymphs – can be dangerous. Shop windows and plate glass are also hazardous for those who like to gaze at themselves. Budgies know about this, locked as they are in an eternal battle with their mirrors, never seeming to realise they are just attacking themselves. Luckily they have millet and cuttlefish to distract them from their eternal struggle with their hated double.

More recently, narcissists have attracted a range of unflattering self-reflexive terms, such as being ‘up themself’ or ‘disappearing up their own arse’. The message seems to be that Narcissism is something to guard against and brings with it anatomically impossible challenges.

Some species, such as whiptail lizards, have succeeded in having sex with themselves, creating an all female population. Whiptails have been called – unkindly, it seems to me – ‘pseudocopulators’. There is very little political correctness in the lizard world.

If you are feeling a bit useless or redundant, imagine how a male whiptail must feel, particularly if it is made to attend diversity workshops.

In the DSM classification system, Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is included in the notorious Cluster B, whose other members include Sociopathic and Borderline personality disorders. Cluster B are known as the ‘dramatic, emotional and erratic’ characters, the ones who populate all TV soaps, most prisons and half the queue at A and E.

There is more to Narcissistic Personality Disorder than just liking the look of yourself reflected in Gap’s window among the Jeggings collection. There is more to it even than the ordinary vice of vanity. People with NPD are said to be arrogant, lacking in empathy, manipulative and constantly seeking attention and admiration. They could really use a new PR campaign. How about, ‘narcissists are lovely people, even if they do say so themselves’?

There are plenty of narcissists in politics or running large organisations, but there are also quite a few in prison. If they are lucky they will work as a presenter on a high number digital channel where all the programs are about dating.

Narcissists present a challenge to a therapist. On the plus side, they love talking about themselves; on the downside, this is liable to make them worse.

The danger is sending people even further up their own nether parts than they were before.

Therapists of various kinds are reluctant to accept that therapy carries the risk of negative change, something which is taken for granted with drug treatment, i.e. side effects.

In full sceptical mode, (something I should leave to the ‘neurobollocks’ website as I don’t like to appear negative) I read The Times this morning (8/7/13) and find an article called ‘How to become an optimist’.

To describe a ‘mindfulness’ technique the author, Michael Mosley, writes, ‘I sit in a quiet place and focus on physical sensations such as the weight of my body’.

And in describing what is called ‘Cognitive Bias Modification’ he looks at successive video screens containing blank, angry or smiley faces, ‘the idea is to train the brain to look for positive images’.

Probably best not to read the rest of the newspaper then. In particular don’t turn to page 27 and look under the headline: ‘referee who stabbed player is beheaded by fans’.

While keeping an open mind about the value of mindfulness etc I hear a shrill voice in the wilderness, shouting ‘get a life mate’.

The Horizon program version of the article will, no doubt, show people looking in wonderment at their own brain activity shown on scanners and scientists will say things like the left side of the brain likes Snickers and the right side likes a Mars Bar.

Contrast this introspective approach with the movement called ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ (RAK). It’s hard to know quite how it started. Probably it was born in California, in the mid-eighties. Interestingly the same kind of location and era as CBT. Although I’m pretty sure as far back as 1968 the Bonzo Dog Band were advising people to do things like leave a packet of fruit gums on London Bridge.

Now we have a ‘one million random acts of kindness campaign’: http://www.4000saturdays.com/rak/

This is a strategy designed to improve society by introducing new positive behaviours within the framework of a social movement. There is still a cognitive aspect to it though, which is deciding what constitutes Kindness.

Is it really being kind, for instance, to give a policeman a helium balloon, or might it just possibly encumber him from drawing his weapon, should the need arise?

Is it really a kindness to feed an expired parking meter, or are you depriving the council of useful revenue, and possibly another driver who is looking for a space?

People who paid toll charges for those behind them in a queue of cars apparently caused even greater tailbacks because of the ensuing surprise and confusion.

It usually feels good to let someone in from a side road, and the traffic system relies on this to function properly. On the other hand, people who scream down the right hand lane expecting to muscle in at the end of the queue should, like murderous Brazilian football referees, expect no mercy, let alone kindness.

Religions – they have all tried –   had quite a few problems sorting out the ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ issue, especially if sadomasochism is thrown into the mix.

Could so called ‘tough love’ for instance be seen as a RAK?  Is it OK to chase cats away from birds, or is that kind of intervention in nature rather colonial? Some of these world policeman roles have got confusing post-Iraq.

Should overweight people be sent away from KFC? Should you give elephants cream buns while the zoo staff aren’t looking?

Should the queue of people about to buy lottery tickets be dispersed by water cannon? When is it kind to be cruel?

To answer all these questions you really need your own ethical committee.

Also, the question arises: could RAK have an opposition movement, Random Acts of Unkindness? If so, it’s important these people never infiltrate dentistry.

So which is better, CBT or RAK? Should we sort out our own thoughts and feelings or go and help an old lady across the road before the Stealth Renault gets her?

Or is RAK just another kind of CBT, more biased towards behaviour?

RAK tends to take place on Fridays, so there is time to do both. For starters, go to your local pond and put up a ‘Danger: Nymphs’ sign.

Put another one up in the park: ‘No Pseudocopulating’.