CAFE NOIR » Tales of an atheist, anarchist, wannabe filmmaker of sorts, and father of three lovable little beasties

Social approval’s a funny thing

Reflecting on my post from this morning, one thing in particular caught my attention: I said I crave, among other things, approval. Yep, I do, absolutely.

I always think it’s funny when people (artists and athletes particularly seem prone to this) make comments to the effect that they’re doing whatever it is that they’re doing, simply for their own personal sake and on their own personal terms. Not at all to prove the doubters wrong, or to seek social affirmation. They’re not reading any of the reviews. Tuning out all the noise.

Hmm, nah, that’s bullshit. Don’t believe it for a second. You’re a human for crying out loud! (Unless, perhaps, you’re on the extreme end of the sociopathy spectrum?)

Sure, social approval isn’t the only relevant good–your own internal satisfaction is important as well, obviously. And yeah, oftentimes a lot of the noise simply is noise, at the end of the day. You’ve (hopefully!) fairly and deeply considered outward criticisms–to the best of your ability–and you’re nevertheless convicted about where you’re at and about what you’re doing.

But we humans are fundamentally social, emotional creatures, and it’s neither possible nor desirable (at least, 99.999…% of the time) to be an army of one.

And what might sound a bit funny about this is, “Well, Jeff, you’ve certainly done your fair share in recent years to piss off and even hurt quite a few people in your social circles. Doesn’t seem very in keeping with a craving for approval.”

But what started eating away at me is that such approval is incredibly hollow. Yeah I’d like your approval, I really would. But for who I actually am, for who I’d actually like to be. Not for who you thought I was, for who I might formerly have been, for who you wish I might be. I’m a careful, thoughtful, intelligent, conscientious guy, and although of course I could be (am!) mistaken about a great many things, and of course I’ve been responsible for a great number of social discourtesies to date, with many more still to come no doubt, I absolutely don’t fly recklessly by the seat of my pants either. I’ve carefully pursued a life of integrity, and I’m not gonna go chasing after that empty kind of approval which would ask me to throw that out the window. But of course: Yes, I still desperately crave positive reinforcement, every bit as much as the next mammal.

I think that’s perhaps the primary reason I’ve written so openly about my atheism. I drew up this list of reasons over two years ago, and although I’d still stand by that list, I’ve come to see much more clearly that there’s another reason looming over all. I’ve felt a need to explain myself. To somehow say, even if only indirectly, that you know what: actually no I’m not evil; no I’m not irrational. This world is a complicated place, and I’m doing my best to navigate it. I don’t need you to journey along the same path that I do, but I do hope you’d at least acknowledge the imperfect integrity of my path, even though it’s not your own.

And if you haven’t noticed, my interest in the philosophy of religion has waned considerably as of late. Partly because theism feels so darn remote to me at this point. But probably more than that: because I’m feeling much more settled in who I currently am than I did two years ago, and much more discriminating about seeking social approval of the genuine rather than the hollow kind; realizing that I’m just not going to please everybody, nor should I try for that.

Maybe that’s what all those artists and athletes could say, rather than the typical macho silliness. Of course it doesn’t have quite the same rhetorical punch!

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