Narcissism vs. Altruism – Why are we all so angry?

Over the last couple of days, Facebook has been dominated by the ‘No Make-Up Selfie’ in the name of cancer awareness. The concept is that women post photos of themselves, stripped of their usual slap, on the social networking site after donating to Cancer Research in order to show support for those who, whilst suffering from cancer, have lost the privilege of being able to look after their appearances during treatment. The resultant increase in donations received by the charity shows the strength of a strategy such as this even though Cancer Research UK have revealed that they had nothing to do with its initiation, although they do support it. £1 million was raised for the cause over a period of 24 hours and the selfies are still coming with people branching out to other cancer charities ranging from research funds to hospice care.

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However, despite the undeniable boost this activity has provided to the charities’ funds, there has been an angry backlash from many Facebook users. The ‘selfie’ has always been a narcissistic element of the website; taking a photo of yourself for no other reason than to post it for your entire network to see, thereby inviting comments and ‘likes’. Many users find it disturbing that people are using such a destructive disease to boost their virtual popularity. At face value some participants seem to be bathing in a kind of martyrdom, showing that they’ve ‘sacrificed’ make up for a worthy cause and posting screenshots of their donation confirmation pages in order to show Facebook their saintly sides.

Why don’t people just donate privately if they actually want to make a difference without receiving the validation of others? Is this yet another way of painting an idealistic picture of your online identity? “Look at me! Here’s a picture of me and my gorgeous boyfriend, we’re so in love you know. This is a status about my fab new job and the company car I’ll be getting with it! I’ll just check-in at this 5 star hotel so that you can see what an amazing time I’ve been having. Oh and I don’t even need make up to look good, plus I’ve donated to charity so I’m beautiful inside and out.”

Of course I’m exaggerating and nobody has actually posted such an obnoxious status all in one sitting, they’d be virtually crucified if they did, but I’m sure the majority of us can recognise that, in isolation, these are the statements made through Facebook on a daily basis. Some people go to the other extreme and publicly wallow in self-loathing and misery and this receives a similarly negative response from other users. What’s worse? Concealing your misfortunes in order to focus on the positives and preserve the appearance of happiness; or being brutally honest about how difficult you’re finding it to overcome the pitfalls and insecurities that we all occasionally have to deal with?

I have another question though… Who cares? Unless your life is being directly affected by the way other people govern their online presence (in which case you can easily ‘de-friend’ or ‘unfollow’ them with the click of a button) what reason is there for the anger brewing in the online community? I understand that, for those who have been affected by the disease either personally or through family and friends, it may seem insensitive and superficial. The fact of the matter is, though, that money is being raised for a worthy cause and surely this can only be a positive thing.

I, personally, believe that there is no such thing as altruism. I strongly believe in generosity of spirit and charitableness but I honestly do not think that it’s possible to commit a totally selfless good deed and that isn’t a criticism. When it comes to charitable giving, it’s not the reasoning that matters; it’s the act itself. Your drive for giving money to Cancer Research could be one of many things: you may have lost a loved one to the disease or battled through it yourself, you might be waiting for test results at this very moment and predicting how the research may help you in the worst case scenario, you might be fascinated by the pioneering science that the charity is funding or you might even just want to join in with the latest internet craze. The result is the same: your money is going to a worthy cause. If you donate privately, you will still feel comforted by the fact that you’re contributing to a charity that you believe in; you don’t necessarily need to shout it to the rest of the world, but you’re happy to have participated in the progression in some capacity.

It’s baffling to me that the ‘No Make-Up Selfie’ has received such a backlash when other, extremely similar, movements such as Movember, Dryathlon and Stoptober saw next to no criticism. There is just as much narcissism involved in telling everyone that you’re ‘sacrificing’ alcohol for a month as there is in posting a photo of yourself having ‘sacrificed’ make-up; the only difference I can see is that you’re asking people to donate to your page as opposed to urging them to donate independently.

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So, I’ll finish by saying that I have participated in this latest craze. I’ve used it as a platform to urge people to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer, a strain of the disease that is diagnosed in 7,000 women a year in the UK and took the life of my wonderful Auntie Sher nearly 4 years ago. It may not make a huge difference, but if it encourages other people to donate to Target Ovarian Cancer or makes even one person get checked out after noticing those common symptoms, then the post has done its job. I was originally skeptical of the selfies’ ability to raise money and awareness, I’ve always opted for private donations in the past, but having read about the astounding amount that’s been raised in such a short time, my doubts have been quashed. The internet encourages herd mentality, I’d much rather people jump on the charity band wagon than the Neknominate one – wouldn’t you?

Text BEAT to 70007 to donate £3 to Cancer Research UK, or carry on donating to the charity of your choice. As long as you’re doing something, no-one should be able to criticise how you’re doing it.

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One thought on “Narcissism vs. Altruism – Why are we all so angry?

  1. Hear, hear. Totally agree, Lily. I don’t get all the rage as far as I’m concerned the selfie is harmless and the donating is great no matter the reasoning behind it.

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