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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


As Andy Warhol famously said, in the future everyone will enjoy 15 minutes of fame. We might construe those remarks to suggest that fame—or perhaps we should call it notoriety, is fleeting and in the end of little meaning. Yet every one of us seeks some form of recognition, even if it is from family, friends or colleagues and not a wider public.

Our desire for validation takes many forms, some praiseworthy and others cringe inducing but they all stem from a common root; the ego. I am not about to embark on a Freudian exploration of human psyche but use the term here in a clinical sense; the thought process that provides us with our sense of personal identity. It is also the part of us that tests our personal reality.

Take a moment to think about the inherent contradiction in what I just said. When we think about the ego it is often in terms of self-worth or self-importance. If we lack these attributes, we are likely to lead diminished lives, forever subjugated by our own or others’ judgements, whether real or imagined. If we possess too strong a sense of self-importance or worth, we run the risk of becoming arrogant, narcissistic and overbearing.

Our ego development must balance on a knife's edge to avoid the pitfalls of under or over expression and this is where the objective testing of reality comes into play. Without some external source by which we can determine whether our perceptions of ourselves are valid, we cannot know when we veer too far in either direction. Consciously or otherwise we look to the world around us to provide that feedback.

The observation that started me on this topic had to do with the posts people put up on various social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, and many others including some far less savory. Let me inject here that it isn’t my purpose to rant about social media in general, although I do find its value -if one can even call it that- frequently suspect. Rather I am talking about the kinds of posts designed to call attention to the poster—and/or his or her views on a given topic. I imagine you know exactly what I am talking about.

When we see them we should view these posts for what they are; human beings asking for validation. I want to be clear that I do not exempt this blog though while I am gratified when a reader comments, likes or even disagrees with a post, I write them out of my own need to discover and reflect on matters that affect me and the world in which I live. But back to the subject at hand. A question for all of us that consume such content is how we should react to these often blatant and needy demands for acknowledgement.

Some who post are obviously looking for positive attention of one kind or another—about their attractiveness, or some aspect of their personality. Perhaps they are veering too far in one direction or another and while we might quickly dismiss this behavior it reveals a yearning that is common to us all even if we chose address it in a different manner. Other posts appear to be in search of like-minded individuals—those who share common hobbies, professional interests, religious or political viewpoints. The latter, whether posited in a positive tone, or more frequently a provocative one ,shout at us…. notice me. And we should take notice—if only because such posts reveal how desperately so many feel passed by, powerless, unloved, unfulfilled, and alone.

There is nothing so futile as a debate on social media. No clever meme or articulate homily is going to convince those of opposing view to change their minds. We should avoid rising to be counted when no one is doing any counting. What we can do –at best, is to give the poster what they are really asking for. We need not agree—just let another human being know that they matter—that’s what they really are asking.

This requires a deft response on our behalf--and that can only come when we accept that the debate is seldom about a principled stance on matters on which the poster has spent considerable thought and which arise out of deep conviction. Let's remember that social media posts are a way to place the poster in the spotlight, to call attention to them and almost everything else is secondary.

I'll admit that some posts are egregious and almost demand a response. I avoid such temptations and only rise to a reply if I am personally called upon, which is thankfully rare as I avoid most social media sites. That said, I have found a way to reply that keeps faith with both the individual and my own principles. I simply do not respond to a provocation or a request for a like or any other endorsement --I just use the occasion to say something genuine about the poster or simply say hello. I find this satisfies the underlying need that prompted the post and provides acknowledgement of the person.

In our increasingly uncharitable world, that simple gesture of validation goes a long way. Feel free to try this yourself, I think you'll find that it benefits you and the poster, and we could all use a little bit more of that kindness in our lives.

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