Updated: May 23
In my long and intriguing quest to understand the anthropology of longevity, I have explored the unique world of healthy centenarians (100 years and older). One of the characteristics I found, independent of ethnicity, location, lifestyle, gender, and socioeconomics, is what I call inclusive narcissism. Unlike the pathological over-valuing of self at the expense of others, centenarians expand their sphere of self-valuation to include others. They see personal value inseparable from the value they perceive in their social connections.
If, for example, they assert their intelligence, they believe their gift is shared in a terrain of brilliance. An ecology of laudable attributes celebrated with others. When I witness their acceptance and expression of their attributes, rather than sensing conceit, I experience refreshing honesty to be emulated.
Centenarians are outliers who break from cultural lessons that encourage excellence to be denied or diminished when noticed by others. Rather than accepting the health benefits of gratitude, herd mentality is compelled to respond with pseudo humbleness. But breaking from cultural fishbowls carries an emotional price tag. Rather than recognizing the value of inclusive narcissism, cultures interpret outlier confidence as conceited, egotistical, and self-absorbed.
Such is the challenging path of outliers. Yet, when I asked some centenarians what their detractors think about their uniqueness, they frequently respond - "I don't know, they are all dead." Choose wisely, centenarians have much to teach us.
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