Picture of mean-looking judge in courtroom

Why Do We Care What Jerks Think?

..is the shorter title I came up with so it wasn’t too unwieldy. What I really wanted to call this blog post was: Why Do We Care About The Opinions of People We Don’t Really Respect?

But that was a mouthful. 

Part of me wants to just say, seriously – if you know the answer, let me know, and end the post here. Because it seems like a pretty tough question. 

We all do it. We all know that person that maybe doesn’t have any expertise in our industry (or perhaps they do, but they’re not really someone we look up to for various reasons) but we still want them to have a good opinion of us and our work. Or that relative with a lifestyle that is nothing we’d want for ourselves, but we want them to approve of us/ our choices/ our home etc..

And they’re probably not bad people (although if they do routinely treat you like you’re not living up to their standards, their behaviour probably doesn’t have the best motivation behind it). There’s just a dynamic floating around the world that we don’t really talk about that often.

We talk about power, who has it, who doesn’t. The same thing with money, influence, success, looks, luck etc… We’re aware of all of that. But we don’t talk about approval as a kind of currency. 

I wonder if that person you thought of when you began reading, are they someone who often withholds praise and approval? Do you they give you appropriate credit for your achievements? Are they happy when you succeed? 

Or do they hold back, do the corners of their mouths turn down and their eyes narrow at your good news, do they point out the flaws in what you’ve done, the potential pitfalls of your future endeavours? Are they acting in some kind of self-appointed voluntary capacity as a judge or a gatekeeper to your permission to enjoy your own success?

And what is it that they’re withholding and that we’re feeling? What is it made of? When people approve of us and congratulate us freely it feels really nice, but it can flow away faster than it came. We don’t always value it very highly. 

But these withholding people – their approval sometimes seems so precious, it must be or they would give it away freely, right? We may even yearn for it. And as we yearn, they may feel a sense of control, even superiority perhaps. 

It feels like a strange kind of game where a person throws away pieces of gold they are freely given and stares rapt at a jealously-guarded piece of tin. And the person holding the tin doesn’t value it. They value the attention and power they have claimed for themselves by denying someone’s achievement. (The gold is genuine praise, the tin is praise being withheld by an insecure person, in case that wasn’t clear). 

It’s so odd. Being a person is so odd sometimes. 

What do we think will happen if we get that piece of tin, that worthless approval that is probably completely disconnected and irrelevant to the thing we have/ made/ did? Will everything be magically alright then? Will we give ourselves permission to celebrate our achievements? 

What do we get from playing along with this ancient and bizarre ritual of craving approval from the least deserving among us? (Not to say that any one person isn’t deserving in themselves, but this behaviour is not inline with the character traits of people I respect.)

So what are we getting out of it? We’re getting something out of it, or we wouldn’t do it. 

Perhaps these people are tapping into the insecurities we all carry. I am not enough, I am an imposter, I am unloveable etc etc. Maybe it even feels good to have someone confirm these familiar old feelings too us. “Ah, yes, thank you for seeing how rubbish I am – other people don’t understand, but you do”. 

Sometimes when I stand on the outside of myself and look at this dynamic and how it’s playing out in my life, well – it seems pretty perverse. 

Maybe one day I’ll just gratefully accept all the pieces of gold and treasure them, and see the piece of tin for what it is. Just let the wind fall from the sails of that particular dynamic, so it falls flat on its face. Just let it be as weak as it is and not use my energy to prop it up. 

Maybe one day the person jealously holding the tin will offer me a piece of gold with an open heart. Maybe. 

If you hate analogies I expect that this was your post from hell. 

As always, take care!