There is a big difference between being self-aware and being self-absorbed: those who are self-absorbed are not self-aware. The self-absorbed never see their own failings, they never learn or grow, and they always hold grudges over every real and perceived slight. They get miffed when they are not always the centre of attention and any criticism of their bad behaviour is seen as some sort of unforgivable evil action. They only hang around those who always applaud them and their narrative is always about them and how perfect they are.The self-aware are not that way. They are aware of their imperfections and will apologize if they hurt the feelings of others. They do not feel unworthy because they are imperfect, but they aren't blinded by their strengths, either. They don't tell people how to think or what to do and they are savvy enough to find good advice and take it. The former are patronizing and arrogant, while latter are not.
But in much of fiction, protagonists are self-absorbed and not self-aware, but the kicker is they are not presented as being self-absorbed.
The hero gets to be the centre of attention. He tells people what to think and how to act, and should someone disagree with him, they are shunned to the status of villain. The supporting cast all cheerlead the hero, and it is hero who must meddle in all affairs to set things right because No one else can survive with him.
This is the definitive narrative of the self-absorbed.
But it is not the story of the self-aware.
The self-aware allows others to enjoy a spotlight independent of his own without meddling, sabotaging, upstaging, or belittling.There is no pecking order. People are allowed to hold different ideas and do things differently without being labelled an enemy.
As a storyteller, it is dilemma that I think about a lot. My protagonists are not without flaw. They make mistakes, but they also are not threatened by being a supporting character in other stories. They don't have to agree with everyone and not everyone has to agree with them. Their friends can tell them when they are making a misstep and they are not going to turn an honest ally into a mortal enemy.
It is easy to write a protagonist as a self-absorbed know-it-all while ignoring the fact he or she is self-absorbed.
Yet there are times when having a self-absorbed protagonist is absolutely critical to tell a story -- so long as the author is aware of it and labels it as such. To mislabel a self-absorbed character as self-aware is not just a disservice to readers, it often reinforces delusions of many self-absorbed people who use the structure of the narrative as validation of their ways, or worse, crib the structure and use it to spin their own self-absorbed nature.
Fiction has many important functions for individuals and society, but expanding our understanding of life and truth is the greatest one of all. When a story implies that tyrannical demonization of those who do not agree with us or are different than us is a righteous thing to do, it turns from antidote to poison for the soul as it warps perceptions and thinking.
I will always champion self-awareness as it expands our hearts and minds. I cherish those who are brave, honest, and loving enough to offer wisdom and tell the world where they are going wrong so that we can come together to correct our mistakes and learn from them, whether they are a veteran expert or a inquisitive child. Fiction is one of the greatest tools to nurture progress, and there is much unlocked potential to use it in new ways to create innovations and ways of thought.