Something interesting is happening at school. An old theme is being re-activated in my life, and I am once again struggling with it. People are praising and complimenting me, and I don’t know whether I’m somehow eliciting their praise, or whether it is spontaneous. I also don’t know whether it’s deserved, and I don’t know what to think about it. The narcissistic part of me is loving it, finding great delight in confirming the belief that I’m superior and more clever than anyone else. On the other hand, the more healthy, rational part of me is telling me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and to let the praise wash over me. In the recent words of a wise man: “Don’t you ever breathe the stuff in!”.
Perhaps I spend too much time thinking about myself. I seem to be having this constant internal dialogue, one side arguing that, though I may be unique, I am no better or worse than anyone else; the other side conveniently selecting confirming evidence that I am, in fact, better at most things than most people, and revelling in that thought. I hate that second part of me, and I’ve often written and spoken about it. I hate to think that my desire to help others isn’t entirely motivated by altruism, but also by a desire to be seen in a good light. It sounds silly, but sometimes I wish people would tell me the things I do wrong a bit more often, rather than just praise me all the time. I know I have lots of annoying, nagging habits that people are bound to notice. I think that Anne-Marie is probably the only one that is really honest enough to discuss them with me, although she’s probably also the one with whom I’m the most likely to relax my attention-getting muscles and let go of some of my behavioural inhibitions.
On further thought, people probably give me negative feedback more often than I’m willing to admit, but I think I tend to take it on board immediately and work hard at fixing it so that it no longer appears as a flaw. So I don’t take negative feedback or even blatant criticism badly, because I have a long-standing philosophy that there is no point getting angry at them, and that if there is some truth in them, then they have some use and I should accept that part of truth and do something about it. Just as my flaws and weaknesses are not a reflection of who I am as a person, so are the things I’m good at doing not a reflection of my identity. I am not my talents.
Instead, who I am is most purely defined by my character, and I’ve written about this in the past too. My underlying values and principles, my outlook on life, the kinds of things that move and resonate with me, these are a better way to describe who I am. They’re not good or bad, they’re just what they are. I’m not better or worse as a person than anyone else, I’m just who I am and I’m OK with that.
So, what resonates with me? What are the things I would do, year after year, even if no one was watching or listening to me? What are the things I would persist in doing even if no one ever praised me for them? Here are some things that come to mind:
- I would teach. I’m passionate about teaching, and I absolutely love to see people experience a “light-bulb moment” in front of me. I don’t really care what I teach, and I’m even fine with teaching things I don’t know much about. I probably couldn’t do that without being watched or listened to, though…
- I would sing. Although I do sing in choirs at times, I mostly love to sing by myself. But don’t I also silently hope that someone will notice that high B I just reached?
- I would play the piano, and I say this out of experience. I tend to be much more creative and immersed if I play by myself without the thought that someone is appraising what I do. The reason is not that I fear negative appraisal, it’s something else I can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to express my emotions better than through improvisation on the piano.
- I would write. As you can see I sometimes publish my writing, but most of my journal-writing (all 7 volumes of it) has been with the explicit idea that no one may ever read them, that I was writing mostly for my own benefit. Since Joshua was born, and I got a hold of a journal my parents kept for me since my birth, I have revised that judgment, and I now consider my writing to be of potentially enormous benefit to my posterity. However, I don’t expect them to be impressed by my writing style or by my noble deeds, the thought never even crosses my mind.
There are probably other things I would do, but right now I need to sleep, and I think that may be another one of these things I would do no matter what people thought. In fact, today just before my afternoon lecture I went up to the postgraduate study room, lied down on the sofa and took a little nap, without worrying too much what the other 8 students in the room thought 🙂
- Why Does Criticism Seem More Effective than Praise? (blogs.hbr.org)
- So why do people blog? (shortshout.wordpress.com)
- Praise Is Crack and We Are Addicts (cyberfootprint.eu)