To be recognized for one’s labour is to be showered with gusto for persistence. To be told, by someone we admire, that one thinks the right thought and takes the right action, is to be flown on butterflies, with our head swelling with pride and our gut projected into sweetened hope. Yet, we are admonished for seeking validation; for wanting another person to leave a thumbs up on our opinions – which, in a sense, is ironic considering that our modern culture of socialization is one defined by likes and shares. Thoughts abound on why we should not seek validation from the external but, surely, the mere fact that we seek it must mean that it is purely human to do so. Shouldn’t we then, before faulting ourselves and others, ask the question of why we seek validation as humans?
Validation – this desire for another’s approval of our words, beliefs, and actions – is a component of community. As social creatures, we pass through life submerging ourselves in groups that both represent and influence our beliefs. In our first conscious contact with community – which is the family – we, who are born as blank slates, are injected with pre-existing world views passed on from previous generations. And as we grow in our experience of life, we accept circles of friendships, club memberships, religious gatherings, and other unions that fit into both our formed and desired personalities. Our very formation of society is built around the need for community; for one’s identity to belong in a larger whole. When this need for belonging is adequately satisfied, we become clothed in positive emotions and separated, almost, from loneliness. And it is this need for belonging and safety that draws us to desire the approval of another human being; to hope, for instance, that our parents think of our school reports as worthy and our boss recognizes our job as well done and a stranger agrees with our world view and our partners deem us ideal. We see how, more than ever, businesses tailor their offerings around the concept of community; how community powers advocacy and offers us a sense of direction. So, as part of being interdependent on the feedback and encouragement of others around us, we seek validation to belong, become, and survive.
Beyond our innate need for belonging, we seek validation because we are terrified of introspective silence. As the wonderful poet, David Whyte, reflected in Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, ‘silence is frightening, an intimation of the end, the graveyard of fixed identities. Real silence puts any present understanding to shame; orphans us from certainty; leads us beyond the well-known and accepted reality and confronts us with the unknown and previously unacceptable conversation about to break in upon our lives.’
Introspective silence – which serves as an antidote for aloneness – causes a shifting of the self from the norm. We are reminded by Whyte that ‘in silence, essence speaks to us of essence itself and asks for a kind of unilateral disarmament, our own essential nature slowly emerging as the defended periphery atomizes and falls apart. As the busy edge dissolves we begin to join the conversation through the portal of a present unknowing, robust vulnerability, revealing in the way we listen, a different ear, a more perceptive eye, an imagination refusing to come too early to a conclusion, and belonging to a different person than the one who first entered the quiet.’ But because we exist in a world where deviating from the norm is often antagonized, it is easier to live in a manner that duplicates the ideals of others. And when this happens; when the desire for validation stretches into a chronic dependence on the external to define one’s self; when the need for validation powers our search to become the “ideal” human being, our authentic self becomes shattered, if not obliterated.
The Unexpected” by Paschal Ugwu via AAF.
This distortion of self is pronounced on social media; in the restless check-ins for how many likes and comments and retweets we have on our photos; in the lookout for the kind of people that say “congratulations” and “well done” on our posts; in the filters and aesthetically pleasing add-ons. Social media telescopes us into the reality that we are indeed reliant on the opinion of other people. This, of course, is understandable, considering that we innately seek belongingness – collecting fragments of other people’s personalities to build ours. The brilliant writer, Oliver Sacks – who gave us The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and left us with a collection of essays in Gratitude – intimated that ‘all of us, to some extent, borrow from others, from the culture around us. Ideas are in the air, and we may appropriate, often without realizing, the phrases and language of the times. We borrow language itself; we did not invent it. We found it, we grew up into it, though we may use it, interpret it, in very individual ways.’
But, Sacks reflects, ‘what is at issue is not the fact of “borrowing” or “imitating,” of being “derivative,” being “influenced,” but what one does with what is borrowed or imitated or derived; how deeply one assimilates it, takes it into oneself, compounds it with one’s own experiences and thoughts and feelings, places it in relation to oneself, and expresses it in a new way, one’s own.’
The chronic desire to be validated by the external armours us with a temporary boost of self-esteem that is soon transformed into the feeling of anxiety and depression. It throws us into reliving the experiences of others and disconnects us from the individuality of intuition. When we consistently buffer our image to meet the standards of our external world, we strip the self of selfhood.
Still, the self is an image of the external; of experiences, history, people. The self stands as a witness to the culture of its society. It passes through communities available to it, collecting and redefining what it is. The flourishing of the self as an isolated creature is currently unproven. Every arrow points to its dependence on other selves. That we need community is an undeniable revelation for our species; a truth worth bearing as we fault ourselves – and others – for desiring validation, even though we understand how stagnancy can erupt when a community favours group-think over individuality; how, as evident in the offerings of Lyft and PiggyVest and Airbnb and other innovators, our collective furtherance depends on separateness.
Ala by Kelechi Nwaneri via AAF.
1 Question for You
Why do you seek validation?
As you think through this question, here’s what you should read next: Feed on the core principles that guide a common community that we each belong to, how silence serves as an antidote for aloneness, and the sense of belonging as compiled by the University of Leicester.
*Yah is the Tamajaq word for the alphabet, H (which, in the context of my scribblings, refers to the month of August). Tamajaq is a southern Berber language, which is an Afro-Asiatic language. It is spoken by up to 870,000 people, predominantly in Niger and Mali, and also in northwestern Nigeria.
Thanks for reading.
I started Strange Notes because I wanted an open space to ponder on existence. That’s still true. But here, too, is a body discovering itself. A house beyond borders that’s open to you, to selves in search of, to heads seeking rest. A room where thoughts turn to words turn to records and meet you.
I share notes on my questions about life. I share art as paintings and music and books read. Art that shifts something in me (and possibly in you too). I share intimate (shareable) conversations with friends and strangers. In this place, there are no rules. Move the vase on the tabletop. Shift the curtains to the wall. Pull the rug to the ceiling. Place your eyes on the bookshelves. Strip on the kitchen counter. Speak in your sleep. Daydream. Come, find, ask still.
I publish Strange Notes on the First Sunday of every month, and as you read, I hope that this note initiates a questioning about the fabrics of existence: the things that make us who we are and the activities that define life.