I recently learned that a narcissist is someone who is more invested in the protection of one’s image rather than the nourishment of oneself. A narcissist, unlike its popular assumption as someone who is in love with oneself, in fact, doesn't like oneself or even is deeply ashamed of oneself. It is from this lack of appreciation of oneself that one feels a need to construct an image — a defense — to protect oneself from exposing one’s true self — which one falsely believes to be inherently defective and inadequate.

I could see how narcissism could not only affect individuals but also nations — a society more invested in the protection of its image rather than acknowledging that there is a problem and working on solving the problem. When a society was more invested in defending its image as being ‘inclusive,’ ‘tolerant' and 'egalitarian,' when in fact institutional racism and discrimination went on in the practice of everyday life — on and off the surface — without even being acknowledged as a ‘problem,’ then the society could be described as ‘narcissistic.’

What I found interesting about ethnic nations was that there was a ‘group’ who was held responsible for the society not being perfectly egalitarian, inclusive and tolerant, whereas in immigrant nations such as America there was no group held responsible for the society not being perfectly egalitarian, inclusive and tolerant. This relief of any one group holding the responsibility made America easier to acknowledge that the existence of discrimination and racism as a ‘social problem,' because there was no layer of defense or denial to be broken through, before seeing the problem as it was and working on solving the problem. But in ethnic nations, an observation that institutional racism did exist in their society was perceived as a personal ‘attack’ and ‘criticism’ of the people who took ownership of the nation.

I could see that the relationship with one’s nation was fundamentally different for those who are from an ethnic nation and those who are from an immigrant nation. I used to be defensive of South Korea when I heard criticisms about it. I didn't realize that I had viewed South Korea as an extension of my self, and an attack on South Korea felt like a personal attack on my self. This also translated into when I was rooting so fanatically for South Korea to win in the World Cup. Overtime, however, I found myself no longer being defensive about South Korea — to be ashamed or to be proud of, but rather was willing to look at the society as it was.

I noticed Americans had a fundamentally different relationship with America than those from ethnic nations. They didn’t consider America as an extension of themselves nor would they take criticism of America as a personal attack. Nor have I seen an American so fanatical about wanting America to win in the World Cup. True, it was from their delusions about 'greatness' of America — the belief that America was the ‘greatest nation on earth’ and whatever others said about the nation wouldn't affect how they felt about it. But one thing they wouldn’t become was to be defensive about their nation, which I noticed was very different from those from older societies, including myself.

It was already considered 'progressive' for a society to consider racism as a problem, as there were still many societies who didn’t see anything was wrong about racism nor were they even aware that they were racist. There was a huge difference, along a spectrum of progression, between a racist society — where racism was not even considered a problem AND a society where overt racism and hate was condemned but covert racism still hadn't been extinguished and there was more work to be done to exorcize it.

But if the society was busy defending its image as being egalitarian, inclusive and tolerant, it was blocking itself from progressing further. It was one thing to condemn overt practice of hate and racism as a society, and another thing to be willing to look at how covert practice of discrimination and denied inclusion went on in the practice of everyday life, on and off the surface in housing, employment — not being held accountable, not being challenged — because there was no system in place to hold it accountable nor to challenge it. And any voicing of grievances would fall on deaf ears as no one would want to hear of it.

For any society to change and progress towards egalitarian, inclusive and tolerant ideals — which no society has perfectly achieved and it is ‘a work in progress’ for all societies, the first step toward any change is to acknowledge that there is a problem. And this acknowledgment is made possible when the society is not defensive about their image and not consider it a personal attack on their inherent defectiveness, but is willing to see the problem as it is.