Something I’m sure that all of us have noticed is that there’s never any shortage of people to criticize us when we do something wrong!
Do what you feel in your heart to be right - for you'll be criticized anyway ~ Eleanor Roosevelt Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson Remember, the only taste of success some people have is when they take a bite out of you. ~ Zig Ziglar Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. ~ Albert Einstein All that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combated, suppressed ~ Nikola Tesla
Whether to shine a light on what is wrong with us, or else to disparage what is right with us, there is always another who will criticize and tear us down. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work the other way. When we feel that we are deserving of praise, there never seem to be enough to appreciate what we have accomplished.
Some might say that this is just a pessimistic view, that we are more prone to remember the negative commentary than the positive. At least to some degree, this is true. I have caught myself bemoaning the lack of appreciation for something I have done, when suddenly I remember that someone actually had complimented me about this earlier.
However, even after recognizing this phenomenon, I still feel that neither I, nor anyone else, receives an adequate dose of being seen or appreciated. I am convinced of this, because I have realized that much of this notion of being unappreciated is an inevitable reality of our human existence. Let us consider why this is so.
Not Being Seen)
It seems to me that the majority of things that I would like to receive validation and appreciation on are things that no one else will even see. Not because they are inconsiderate, not because they are inattentive, but because they occur in the secret recesses of the heart where I am the only witness.
Day-to-day behaviors of mine might seem meaningless or arbitrary to any other person, even though they required a moral choice on my part. It could be that I felt an old grudge rising up and I let it go, or that I drove down a different street to avoid an object of lust, or that I perfectly coordinated my schedule to make sure I had ample time to play with my son.
Dozens of these moments might occur in a single day, with no fanfare and no recognition. I suppose I could draw attention to them, spelling out to others exactly what I went through inside, but in most cases that would feel like petty boasting.
These are good moments in our lives, perhaps the best moments, yet by their nature they will pass unnoticed by any other.
Not Being Acknowledged)
Sometimes the good that we do is witnessed by other people, but they fail to recognize or appreciate it. Whether as a father working to provide for his family, or a mother caring for her children, or a church leader picking up the phone whenever a member of his parish calls, or a citizen volunteering in the community, we all have ways that we do good simply as a matter of habit.
Unfortunately, when we make a pattern of doing good, it is easy for others to take that good for granted. They don’t see doing our duty every day as a moral decision, and most days it might not be…but some days it totally is! Just because something is a duty, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of recognition.
On the flip side, the world also tends not to recognize when we are justified in retaliating against another but chose not to do so. It’s not very common that we say to one another “thank you for not demanding your pound of flesh from me” even when it required a superhuman effort from the other person not to do so!
Not Hearing the Right Words)
Finally, we have the situation where someone does recognize that praise is deserved, but they lack the time and insight to be specific and meaningful with it. Not all words of appreciation are created equal. A generic “good job, everyone” to the entire group doesn’t begin to acknowledge your individual efforts and virtues. Even worse, many who know that they ought to compliment another feel awkward about doing it and will avoid making any sort of eye contact. This suggests that the giving of praise is a chore to them, rather than a sincere expression of appreciation. Earlier I suggested that pessimism might cause us to forget most of the compliments we receive, but perhaps the real issue is that most of the praise we get is phony, so we don’t make note of it anyway.
Of course, sometimes people do show us appreciation that is heartfelt, sincere, and made while holding our gaze. And while the gesture is appreciated, sometimes even this won’t land just how we would like. This is because people will compliment us based off of the qualities that they think are important, rather than the ones that we really needed to hear. I might say to you, “that’s a wonderful poem you’ve written, the rhyming and the meter are perfect,” and in your own head you might think “well…yeah…I’ve always been good at rhyming and meter, but this was the first time I tried to have a spiritual connection through my craft.” By complimenting the polish rather than the subject matter I have failed to give you the praise you needed to hear most.
Of course, knowing which specific virtues you need to have reaffirmed requires an intimate knowledge of your inner self. The right words for the same behavior will be totally different from one person to the next, so knowing the exact words to say is often beyond the capability of the one giving the praise. We can appreciate that the intention was on the mark, even if the words weren’t quite, but the sense of dissatisfaction may persist all the same.
Alone in Our Needs)
To receive sincere appreciation and refreshing validation is a very rare occurrence. The lack of them is in some part due to the laziness and thoughtlessness of others, but as we’ve illustrated, much of it is simply beyond the capability of others to provide for us.
Are we to simply accept this sense of dissatisfaction as having no solution? Well, yes and no. We need to accept that we are never going to have complete satisfaction from other people, but we don’t have to accept that other people are the only ones who can satisfy this need.
Throughout the rest of this study I will discuss what other sources of validation we can have. I will begin tomorrow by introducing a new practice I have recently implemented in my life, one that has already brought me much of the validation and contentment I have longed for. See you then!