Monday, November 17, 2014

Don't let narcissistic writing make you look foolish

Because we see so much narcissistic writing today, we can easily slip into narcissistic writing ourselves. If you don’t keep narcissism under control, it can embarrass your readers, your listeners and you. In earlier posts, I gave two egregious examples of narcissistic writing:

The first example was from a blogger who interviewed Tom Peters and then, in her blog post, wasted more than half her words writing about herself instead of Mr. Peters.

The second example was from a college professor who, while introducing Stephen King as a guest speaker, spent more than one-third of the introduction talking about herself instead of Mr. King.

Now here’s a third example:

In 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy at the funeral of Daniel Inouye. Mr. Inouye was a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran and “one of the longest serving U.S. Senators in history, second only to Robert Byrd.” (Source)

Mr. Obama spent a lot of words talking about himself instead of Mr. Inouye. Reporters cringed; some complained publicly. For example:

In Slate, Emily Yoffe wrote:

“Obama likes to see events through the lens of his own life’s chronology. Thus we learn that Inouye was elected to the Senate when Obama was 2 years old. Now you could make this relevant by describing how Inouye worked to send federal dollars (you don’t have to call it ‘pork’ at a funeral) to transform Hawaii’s roads and schools, for example, so that the Hawaii Obama grew up in had the kind of facilities people on the mainland had long taken for granted. But no, we simply learn that Inouye was Obama’s senator until he left the state to go to college – something apparently more momentous than anything Inouye did during his decades in office.”

In The Weekly Standard, Daniel Halper wrote:

“President Barack Obama used the funeral for Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye to talk about himself. In the short 1,600 word speech, Obama used the word ‘my’ 21 times, ‘me’ 12 times, and ‘I’ 30 times.”

In Taki’s Magazine, Steve Sailer, who called Mr. Obama “a middle-aged bore about his past,” wrote:

“…the subject Obama finds most enthralling is Obama. For example, Obama’s 2012 eulogy for Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the Japanese-American war hero, used 48 first person pronouns or adjectives (such as I,’ me,’ or my) to recount how the young Obama had noticed Inouye on TV.”

The Takeaway: Don’t let childish, narcissistic writing make you look foolish. Don’t distort the piece to squeeze yourself in. Refer to yourself only if you are a natural, relevant part of what you are writing. This rule is especially important when you are writing specifically about one person; for example, an introduction, an interview or a eulogy.

See disclaimer.

Shown: A section of Echo and Narcissus, by John William Waterhouse, 1903. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool.

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