On Receiving Recognition: Is Attention a Good Thing?

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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.

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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.

Fifty Positive Steps to Change Your Life

Australian State Route Shield

You might think it an odd place to begin changing your life, but consider this: write your own obituary. What is it that you’d like someone to say about you after you are gone?

One of the tricks to changing your life is to widen your imagination, break your routine, and see and think about things differently. Here are 49 more small steps that you might consider in the process of reconfiguring yourself:

If you are a city dweller, drive far enough away from the city to see the stars on a clear night. There are lots more than you think.

Think of someone you dislike and make a list of all of their positive qualities.

Volunteer to do something that might be described as “community service.”

Start to write your autobiography.

Write a short story.

Eat a raisin slowly, as if you’d never tasted one before.

Go to a fancy restaurant and eat a meal alone; or go to a concert, play, or movie alone.

Make a list of all the things you are grateful for.

Apologize to someone who deserves your apology, including a “no excuses” statement of regret and some method of attempting to make-it-up to them.

Re-contact an old elementary school friend.

If your physician allows it, begin a weight-lifting program.

Wake up early to see the sun rise.

Make two lists, one of your strengths and another of your faults.

Create a “bucket list:” all the things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket.” Make plans to do one of them within the next year.

Tell someone how much you appreciate him and why.

Write a letter. Hand write it.

Do some routine task (eating for example) with your non-dominant hand.

Build something, even if it is only a model airplane.

Grow something.

With adequate supervision so that you don’t get hurt, spend some time blindfolded.

Take an academic course.

Meditate.

Take a yoga class.

If you aren’t a dancer, learn to dance.

Remember all of the difficult life challenges that you’ve overcome and identify the qualities in you (strengths) that allowed you to overcome them.

Imagine a different and more rewarding life than the one you currently lead. What do you need to do to create it?

Create a five-minute comedy monologue and deliver it to a group of friends.

Learn to sing or play a musical instrument.

Play chess.

Give up something for a month (for example, TV, a favorite food, alcohol, caffeine, or listening to music).

If you have no children, consider becoming a “Big Brother” or a “Big Sister.”

Learn a foreign language.

Participate in a team sport.

Start a philanthropic project with some friends, no matter how small it might have to be.

Visit a public high school in the inner-city and think about the future of this country and what you can do to make it better.

Clean out your closet.

Imagine that you are to be stranded on a desert island and can only take five non-essential items with you. What would they be?

If your memory was going to be erased, what would be the single memory that you would ask to be spared? Why that one?

Go on a retreat.

Teach someone something. Show them “how it is done.”

Give some money (even if its only a dollar) to some needy person you know; and do it anonymously!

Buy a hard copy of one of the few remaining great newspapers in the USA (for example, the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal) and read every word. Then think about the fact that a Bell Labs study reportedly estimated that the average sixteenth century man had less information to process in a lifetime than can be found in a single daily edition of the New York Times.

If you wear a tie, tie the knot in a new way (most men tie a Four-in-Hand knot, but there are some others that actually look better).

Paint, draw, sketch, or sculpt something.

If you haven’t done so already, read Becker’s The Denial of Death.

Walk to some destination that you usually reach by car or pubic transportation.

Make a list of all that you have learned about life since finishing your formal education.

If you don’t have a tatoo, get a temporary tatoo (if there are no health risks to you) and observe how people look at you differently; if you have a prominent tatoo and can cover it up, walk around and notice the way that people look at you now.

Send me a suggestion on one more step to change your life.

The image of the Australian State Route Shield is sourced from Wikimedia Common.