Have you ever had a moment when you’ve wanted to stand in a crowd and shout, “Tell me you like me! Show me I have value!” That would be refreshing, if we came right out and spoke our deepest inner desires. It’s not our nature to be so blunt, however. Instead we find other, passive ways to incite people to say, “There you are! You are worth my attention.”
Most commonly we see these calls, with less specificity, on that popular amplifier of emotion: Facebook. People are willing to draw attention to themselves on social media, while at the same time rarely saying what they actually mean.
A common approach is known as “vaguebooking,” where one makes a statement to get people wondering what’s going on, eliciting interest. “Something big is coming, stay tuned.” More will be said, but not yet. Give my page your interest and be rewarded with specific news later. The news will usually be about that person, so you’d have to be a fan for this to have any effect.
Now consider a post that reads, “Why do I bother with this life thing?” Or, “I’m angry at everything today.” Prior to the internet, the person who wrote this might have stormed across the room, thrown open the window and shouted their rage or hurt outside to the neighborhood. Today we open Windows and shout into the virtual world of social media.
A person expressing anger or angst on Facebook might post, “Why should I bother with this world?” This draws responses from the pool of people upon whose newsfeed the message displays. It is a cry for help. People reading might become concerned and think, We cannot let this person leaning over the railing of the bridge take that last step. They interpret the post as shouting, “Goodbye, cruel world,” and their responses insist the person has worth and merit – that they are loved.
That person does have worth and merit, and is loved, no question, but most of these posts are not from someone on the edge of a bridge. For those that are, I’m glad this medium exists where they can cry out. The other x-percent might want to rethink whether eliciting human interaction through vague posts (aka screaming out their window) is the right way to go.
One alternative could be to actually talk to someone. “Hey, how are you doing?” “Good, you?” “Eh, had better days.” “What’s up?” And a healthy, healing conversation (even if via messaging or email) begins. You now have someone to talk about the problem(s) going on, and when done you will feel better, as long as you allow yourself to. That last statement might require an entire post of its own.
Casting a wide net for validation without specifics is rarely going to give you what you want. So why do we do it? (We all have, myself included, in various ways.)
We crave human interaction. The touch of another. The attention of another. Everyone wants to be seen and told they have meaning, that they matter. Not long ago I would have a hard time asking for this, though I craved it. How often have we listened to someone approach from behind, wanting them to draw close and wrap their arms around us, hold us, show us we are special?
The human race, contrary to what many think, contains no mind readers. Our friends and relations do not know what’s going on in our head most of the time. Unless we ask for it, how will any connection be made?
When a child learns to talk she has no qualms expressing her desires. This makes parenting a lot easier after the first couple of years. Why, then, as we grow older do we lose that fearlessness in communicating? Why do we stand in the middle of a field and wait for someone to notice our hidden pain? We sigh loudly, hoping passers-by will look our way and wonder why we’re standing in a field sighing.
Another method of eliciting affirmation is much less subtle. It’s usually posted as a question which would cull positive responses back to the poster. “If I was drowning, would you save me?” Of course people would, and would say so (those that would not likely aren’t Facebook “friends” anyway), but as these types of posts continue, only those who need to be an affirmer, a rescuer, end up replying. The posters are crying for positive feedback, needing to hear they are worthy, but over time elicit less of it. It’s a Peter and the Wolf syndrome.
We all do this to some extent, soliciting compliments in order to bolster our self-image. I write stories or essays or reviews and point people to them, hoping they enjoy it. I might not overtly be asking for someone to tell me they liked it, but isn’t that what we want, to hear we’re doing something worthwhile?
In the end, however, if we rely on others for a sense of self-worth, we will be disappointed. People around us aren’t bad for not constantly affirming love and affection. They are simply distracted by other concerns. Much as we want to be, we are rarely the absolute center of someone else’s world.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reach out to someone, explain the reason for our angst, even if sometimes we are not quite sure ourselves. Talking to friends, or professionals, is a proven way to cull these out. Answers (and freedom from our pain) are rarely found until we share details with someone, work out with someone else what we’re sorrowful or fearful of. Details discussed in the light gives darkness less power over you.
All of us can be categorized as part of the group called “other people.” As such, we should make it a point to share a compliment or friendly word. Giving other “other people” a word of encouragement can be life-giving. Now and then, someone will truly find themselves long in the desert of self-loathing and cry through their window for someone to let them know they are fine. We should give it to them, or even better: give them a call. Have lunch together. Interact in 3D.
I mentioned we are rarely the center of someone else’s world. However, there is One for whom we are absolutely the center, whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not.
Psalm 139:13-14 tells us that God knitted us together in our mother’s womb, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Easy to say, less sometimes to believe. Just because we don’t believe it, or don’t want to, doesn’t make it less true. As believers, we need to share this truth with everyone: that God loves them more than they can ever imagine, and exactly as they are right now. There is something in that statement people respond to, even if they’re an atheist because if nothing else, it is affirming. For me, it’s truer than anything I could say.
If you find yourself in the valley (Psalm 23:4) these days, reach out and connect with someone in your circle, your church or family. We are all Church, whether worshiping under the same roof or having coffee in Starbucks. Doesn’t matter. When we feel like shouting into Windows, remember there’s always One who will respond with the same words He’s used for millennia to remind us we are worthwhile. Then, connect with someone, face to face, or phone to phone.
Words can bring life, or death, to others (Prov 18:21). Let’s be people who give life. Because there will be a day when we need to hear the same thing.
Written by Dan Keohane