Reading the tale of Narcissus, the young man who fell in love with the image of himself, reminds us that human nature has perhaps not evolved as much as we would like to think. In the tale, Narcissus spurning his male suitors sends one over the deep end. The rejected young man, Ameinias, uses the sword given to him by Narcissus to commit suicide. His dying prayer is that one day Narcissus realizes the pain of unrequited love. Being a moral tale, the unfortunate Narcissus looks into a pool of water, becoming enchanted by his own reflection. Sadly for him, a second Narcissus fails to emerge from the pool, leaving Narcissus a victim of his own image.

The recent shootings at Virginia Tech bring the concept of narcissism to the forefront. Time's special report includes an essay supporting the idea that the serial killer's inability to focus on others and strong need to have the world revolve around himself plays a leading role in his evolution as a killer. While narcissism is a serious disorder that is estimated to affect .7 to 1% of the population, there exists the viewpoint that, at least in America, a healthy dose of self-love is not necessarily a bad thing. Child-development experts point out that young children who receive positive input about themselves, as well as opportunities to achieve mastery, learn to value themselves as well as their abilities. So why is it that as our youngsters mature, we fail them by promoting the outer instead of the inner beauty?

May's issue of Seventeen offers readers a chance to win a different pair of shoes each day. The graphic pops off the page, a calendar displaying an Imelda Marcus boutique of shoes. Not to be dismissed, the magazine also includes information on handbags, clothing, makeup, hair bands, jewelry, and perfume. Seventeen, of course, is geared to young women who, by virtue of their stage of development, are highly attuned to their physical appearance. Compare the smiling faces of the Virginia Tech victims, looking like a hallowed version of Hollywood Squares; it is easy to imagine that they, too, were concerned about the face that looked into the camera. Putting your best foot forward is simply the American way. Wanting success and the items that mark us as successful will generally not turn most into narcissists or serial killers. And yet…to the narcissist, other people are simply accessories, a bracelet, a dash of lipstick, a pair of shoes, just a little something to bring attention to the true draw, themselves.

In a society that is filled with opportunities to promote yourself, how do we encourage young people to reflect on the needs of others? Glancing through the headlines, it appears that there is a dearth of role models willing to put themselves second, let alone last. Headlines sell papers  the more outlandish the better — and our demand for the latest dirt will get us that and more. Filled with longing for that something just a bit better, are we blinded from the connection between television shows, magazines, advertisements, and songs that continually remind us that while we are special, just one more something can't hurt. People, things. Things, people. Linked by the common denominator of desire, do we accept responsibility for those who cross the line? As we contribute to the pool of materialism, whose faces are reflected? Cho Seung-Hui gunning down his classmates? Ted Bundy luring his victims? Another beautiful model peddling a pair of shoes? Surrounded by our desires, do we pull back to remember that denial can serve as a reminder that life is about more than ourselves? Things, people, people, things. To the serial killer, it's a world of one size fits all.        

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