On Receiving Recognition: Is Attention a Good Thing?


If you’ve ever wanted attention, this post is for you. Receiving recognition as an adult is meaningless but important. A contradiction, you say? Perhaps not. The wish for the spotlight is like a dry sponge inside of us hungering for a drenching. There are more noble human qualities. Still, attention is intoxicating and addictive. Almost everyone wants acknowledgment, except the master meditators and the Stoics.

The desire for status leads us to do awful things. Other people are used as stepping-stones on the way to greater height.  Accolades have no real value, yet we suffer in their absence. In the latter sense only — the manner in which they capture us — resides their importance. Recognition and prestige are significant on a personal level, but are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Fame benefits one person and only one; and — the joke goes — lasts 15 minutes. Not much bang for the buck.

The philosophers tell us we are misled if we seek applause, potentially even corrupted by our desire. Better, they say, to be honorable, courageous, and kind than to be well-known. Here is what Marcus Aurelius wrote:

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.

I now care less about getting good notices than in my youth, but not to the point of total indifference. Should I ever reach full maturity, my ego will be effaced and applause won’t matter at all. Like when I’m 400 years old.

I raise the issue since I am newly honored by receiving the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I will admit, I was pleased and amused. I know it was offered sincerely by the wonderful blogger Spacefreedomlove. I am tickled because it is one of the fun things bloggers do to entertain themselves, say thanks, increase their readership, and bring a smile. Over analysis of this writers’ chain letter? Perhaps. I am simply grateful for a small tip of the cap from someone I appreciate, as she does me, from our writings and commentary and an ability to make each other laugh and think. She is a peach.


WordPress reminded me, a few days before, that my blog is six years old. Toilet trained, vaccinated, and ready to start first grade. Earlier in this “career” I received the Beautiful Blogger Award. 

Despite the doubtful evidence of the photo in the top right corner, I was once absolutely beautiful. Way back, I was known everywhere as a stud muffin, trailing crowds of admirers behind me. I had to fend off women with an electric cattle prod. Then I woke up.

Gorgeous or not, I’m sure one of my reasons for blogging is to get attention. Not the only reason, however. I began with the clear idea of leaving a piece of myself (or at least a few electronic footprints) for my children and potential grandchildren. I never had the talent or grandiosity to believe I would transform the world or deposit a permanent mark on the planet. Talent often fuels grandiosity, leading to a vain pursuit of a satisfying level of recognition. Vain because, like money, there are always people with more of it, leaving the seeker bummed out.

I’ve been modest in my aims, in part because I had an early awareness of my limitations, which helped me to accept some things in life. To paraphrase Arthur Miller, we all try to scratch our name on a block of ice during a sweltering mid-summer day. Unlike his Death of a  Salesman character, Willy Loman, however, I don’t care that the autograph is not inscribed in stone.

My grandiosity does extend, nonetheless, to the pleasure I get in giving an occasional speech. The neat thing about oratory is you receive immediate feedback. Even before the applause, you sense whether you quieted the crowd and won their focus. Laughter tells you about the quality of your humor. Tears report back if the heart has been touched.

Blog post feedback, however, says less and does so later. Even if you get lots of “likes” and comments, average “readers” are said to spend 96 seconds attending to a blog post. I’ve had sneezes that lasted longer. A discouraging statistic, for sure. Inner necessity drives me, but I am not indifferent to being read. I suspect I would not journal forever were the words a secret.

Back to the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. The conditions of the honor required me to post the picture of it up top, nominate a few bloggers to receive the same distinction, and answer the seven questions below. First to a couple of bloggers who inspire me:

Three Worlds One Vision. Rosaliene Bacchus is a fierce defender of the dispossessed and disadvantaged, not to mention our fragile planet. She has lived in three countries on two continents and experienced more than her measure of hardship. She will not make you laugh as a rule, but may motivate you to march in the name of something good.

The Empress and the Fool. I might be the only man who reads about this teacher’s journey through the medical and emotional trial of trying to produce a baby. Her writing is lovely and she is on her way to an offspring. No newborn has ever been more loved ahead of its vault into the daylight.

Now to the seven questions I must answer:

Who is your favorite public figure? This was a tough one. I don’t admire many public figures. That said, I will give you two.

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren. A super bright, bold, sincere woman who seems to say what she believes. Should she make herself a candidate for President, I will reconsider, since that would suggest she isn’t smart enough to refrain from putting her hand in the ultimate political meat grinder. Running for President pretty much guarantees your judgment is poor.
  • Jonathan Kimble “J. K.” Simmons, the big, bad, band guy in Whiplash. He can play any role, from comic to kind to cruel. He is getting his due, at last. However meaningless, it would be difficult for him (or any of us in the same spot) not to care.

What do I like most? After removing love from the picture, classical orchestral music. Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Mozart and many others are on this lover’s list.

Do you follow trends?  I had to look up the 2014 list of trends. Only numbers two, four, and 10 rang a bell. I was afraid to find out what #6 was. I guess that answers the question.

1. Bae
2. Benedict Cumberbatch
3. Turnt up
4. The booty
5. Yik Yak
6. Man buns
7. Kimye
8. Normcore
9. “Frozen” mania
10. Ice Bucket Challenge

What do you do when someone gets angry?
If I’m on my game, I wait. As I ponder, I’m trying to decide what part of the rageful message I can agree with, thereby getting on the other person’s metaphorical side of the table. Confrontation is out. I slow things down and make sure my emotions are in check. If none of this helps, it is best to suspend the discussion for another time or walk away.

What have you loved most?
Without question, my children and my wife, as unlike as those loves are. How remarkable that a thing named love takes such different forms as the love of a spouse and of a child.

Do you have causes?
The Zeolite Scholarship Fund, a college scholarship program I began with seven of my high school buddies in the year 2000. We are in the process of closing down. Everything has a beginning and an end.

What quality do you admire most.
I learn more from those who are honest, critical, and direct with me than those who are kind. Honesty — including honesty with oneself — takes courage and risks disapproval and the loss of recognition. Many self-interested souls get plaudits, but the honest whistle-blower gets forgotten if he is lucky, despised if he is not. Truth-telling integrity is a thing more important than the status I mentioned at the start. So let us finish where we began, although I hope the topic still resonates after you read this. The words are those of T.S. Elliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

11 thoughts on “On Receiving Recognition: Is Attention a Good Thing?

  1. Thank you for a very thoughtful and insightful discussion of how we can be motivated. I often struggle with the complexities of just why it is I write my blog and you’ve given me a lot to think about. I so appreciate but your honesty and thoughtfulness. ~ AG


  2. Many congratulations on the award, it is exceptionally well deserved! If you are looking for over-analysis of this writer’s chain letter, try this 😉 http://lifeinabind.com/2014/07/11/blog-awards-a-few-thoughts-probably-neither-inspiring-nor-influential/
    I am in complete agreement with you in terms of the quality you admire the most. My closest friends are those who are honest and straightforward with me. It may hurt or take me aback but I value it above everything else. There is little more triggering for me in therapy than feeling as though my therapist is not being as direct as she could be.
    As for the quote….ah, the Four Quartets, so beautiful. My therapist quoted from East Coker to me some time ago. It took me months to fully appreciate what she was saying, but that’s beautiful too. I shared it here:


  3. http://lifeinabind.com/2014/05/21/waiting/

    Sorry my tablet wasn’t pasting link so had to do separate comment! Happy Valentine’s Day by the way 🙂


    • And a happy Valentine’s Day to you, as well. Your post on blog awards is quite different and, I think, more thoughtful than my own. I wish I’d written it! The “waiting” you describe in the second link sounds like a kind of meditative acceptance. Did the appreciation you eventually reached concerning your therapist’s use of the quotation ever appear in print? If so, I’d be interested to see it.


      • Thank you so much for your lovely words and many apologies it has taken me so long to respond! I haven’t yet managed to write a post about what ‘Waiting’ has come to mean to me, but it’s on my list of things to write about, so hopefully I will manage it soon. It’s odd, some of the most important moments in my therapy are still un-written about – not intentionally, these are things I’d love to share – but somehow I am treasuring them close to my heart, and they just haven’t made it onto ‘paper’. I think I understood ‘Waiting’ better after a significant therapy moment in the autumn, and something similar happened again a few weeks ago when I came to appreciate it even more. The former incident was related to http://lifeinabind.com/2014/12/ or rather its aftermath, which was more significant, and which I also still intend to write about. The more recent incident was related to a realisation that my desire to be loved unconditionally and my desire to please (and to feel reassured that I have pleased), pull in completely opposite directions….


  4. Congratulations on your award, Dr. Stein! A well-deserved honor.

    Is attention a good thing? Speaking for writers of fiction, I would say “yes.” Recognition drives away the self-doubt that plagues many of us.

    Wow, what a surprise! I did not see that coming. Naming my blog as one that inspires you left me speechless, or rather “without words.” A big thank you.

    I look forward to more of your inspiring, well-written, and humorous posts on the complexities of being human.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rosaliene. And you do inspire me with your dedication to putting wrongs right. I agree about recognition for writers, especially for those who hope to make a living via their language.


  5. I know this is a really old post, but your legacy has been left. You have left a permanent piece of yourself on this planet, and not just with your children and grandchildren. I speak only for myself, but I am sure it includes many. You offer a free unconditional kindness that comforts many and inspires us to do more. I guess I’ve opened my heart to commenting because I have more to give. As the other side becomes more available I suppose I am clinging to the goodness in the real world (you) rather than the darkness. Want you to know you have been a silent partner in that for years, so you have definitely left your mark.

    Liked by 1 person

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