My mother was not a woman to get over a slight. It didn’t matter whether it was real or imagined, or who had committed the transgression. Forgiveness didn’t come easy to her, if at all.
Especially if it was one of her children that needed to be pardoned. She had an expression that she would use if any of us went looking for forgiveness for having done something wrong.
“Kisses are easy”, she would say, her eyebrow arched and before turning her back. “It takes brains to be good.”
There were all sorts of ways in which the only accurate description of my mother was the word narcissist, and someday I’ll figure out how she became that way. Everyone recognises the symptoms of the condition, but the experts are less certain about causes and outcomes.
I believe it has its roots in emotional neglect, or perhaps mismanaged emotional development. Perhaps too much unqualified adoration as a child can be just as damaging as too little support.
The other thing I think I know is that people who are essentially narcissistic always end up damaging themselves and everyone around them, to the point of total destruction if necessary.
Anyone who loves himself or herself more than anyone else invariably ends up lonely and alone.
There are different types of narcissism. Some years ago, when Donald Trump arrived on the scene, we were all introduced to the kind of behaviour — self-glorification, emotional cruelty, a complete inability to ever accept being second best — that has done untold damage to democratic systems in the United States.
Trump’s narcissism, coupled with his willingness to pander to the worst human instincts, came close to destroying America (and may do so yet).
But over the last couple of weeks the news has been dominated by the activities and behaviours of two men who seem to share at least several characteristics in common, including an overwhelming belief in their own importance and invincibility.
One is Seán Quinn, the other is Elon Musk. The former has destroyed his own business and played no small part in Ireland’s financial collapse which brought the country to its knees. The latter seems hell-bent on unleashing the sort of destructive forces that can do immense global damage — but may destroy his company in the process.
Like many others, I watched the documentary series about Quinn with a sort of grim fascination. As Mick Clifford said in his Saturday column, the tragedy of Quinn’s failure is how he failed and what it showed of his character. Rather than take responsibility, he retreated into self-pity and delusion.
What I saw, watching the programme, was a man who found it easy to forgive only himself. There in no one else in his life or his world who will ever be forgiven if they criticise him or even disagree with him.
This was a man who left school far too early, who put himself under the most intense pressure to make money and to show the world how big he was.
For a long time, he was like a benevolent dictator in a part of Ireland that had been neglected, and in the process gathered hundreds, maybe thousands, or people around him who thought he could do no wrong.
At the same time, ambition turned to greed. There was a logical progression in many of the investments Quinn undertook, but there was no logic at all in seeking to buy a bank with money essentially borrowed from a bookie. He destroyed everything in the end because he wanted everything and didn’t see why he couldn’t have it just because he wanted it.
A grown man, who had achieved a lot and wanted more, behaving like a spoiled child, and still doing so to this day. He is actually incapable of seeing the damage his recklessness caused — he can only see the damage done to him, and none of it is his fault.
I found myself wondering why. What is the burning desire? What is he trying to prove? And to whom? Why is it actually impossible for him to recognise the flaws that did him in? How deep down, I wonder, would you have to dig to find the roots of his utterly destructive self-satisfaction?
Then there’s Elon Musk. Someday the world might figure out what makes him tick. I hope it’s not too late, and that he hasn’t used his uncountable wealth to do irreparable damage by then.
On the other hand, there’s every possibility that he might end up a busted flush in very short order, because his outward displays of narcissism must be frightening the lives out any of his investors, not just in Twitter but in his other operations.
This past weekend he has spent his time claiming to have released a pile of documents, in the interests of transparency, around the decision made by Twitter during the last presidential election to limit publication of a story about Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden.
There was no evidence in anything released by Musk that Biden or the Democrats had prompted the decision, and the Hunter Biden story was hugely controversial anyway. (Hunter Biden has, it seems, prompted as many conspiracy theories as Hilary Clinton.)
It will take months to get to the real truth behind all this, if we ever do. But unless I’m missing something, we’re not actually being told anything we don’t already know. I’m not going to go into the details of the “Hunter Biden laptop” story but suffice it to say that it was used again and again to allege corruption against Hunter Biden’s father.
If Elon Musk was in a position as a result of his ownership of Twitter to prove that Joe Biden was corrupt, he would, I guess, have a duty to reveal all he knows.
What he appears to have established, at worst, is that the company he now owns made a poor decision back then to restrict the circulation of a bit of news and reversed that decision shortly afterwards.
Why? Why would the world’s richest man be indulging in rubbish like this?
There was a time when Twitter seemed to be a bright hope for the world, a way of enabling especially oppressed people and groups to communicate, to spread ideas, to change minds.
Then it seemed to split in half. One side of Twitter retained a lot of those characteristics, the other side became a sewer, full of hate.
Now it’s the plaything of a rich man — and while he is claiming he is restoring it to its “free speech” status, its antisemitic and hate content seems to be rising.
Again, why? The decision to buy Twitter in the first place seemed like a flight of fancy, but Musk seems hell-bent on making himself the centre of the world’s attention by systematically destroying the company he just bought — or by perverting its original purpose, which would be a lot more sinister.
Maybe in the end, being the centre of attention is what really matters to him. Hopefully, the world won’t have to pay too heavy a price for his ego.