It makes me laugh, the number of things we do in order to feel important.
We are particularly sensitive to perceived personal slights. We don’t like to be ignored. Nor do we like others to take precedence over us. We don’t like it when other people take resources away from us. And we like badges of honour, whether they be clothes, possessions, roles, or marks of class.
Neglect is a deficit of care. If we were a plant, then we would need water and nutrition – otherwise we would get unhealthy. In the same way, humans who are ignored do tend to suffer from poorer health and more difficult circumstances. So it is understandable that, as individuals, we have some instincts that kick in when we sense a lack of care from others. Babies cry loudly when they are hungry, and children pull at their parents’ arms, or shout to them.
But when we are adults, being ignored is a routine experience. Sooner or later, we will be caught in a queue, ignored in a restaurant, left waiting for an answer to a question. If we haven’t learned to cope with that experience, then we will tend to get upset.
BEING SECOND BEST
We live in a culture of winning. We are fed films and stories full of battles, in which the good people win out, and the bad people lose. Our politics is full of quests to be the best. Countries are encouraged to have the biggest economies. Companies are encouraged to grow bigger, and to win out against other companies. Even our romantic ideals are based on the idea of being the best in the eyes of another.
This creates a preference for competition over collaboration. Countries fight wars, physical and financial, for supremacy. Companies are tempted to undermine and outbid other companies. Individuals compete for attention, and life becomes a bit of a market – for jobs, accommodation, and attention.
Many of us also live in a culture that fears loss. We tend to share our gains on social media – gifts, clothes, holidays, experiences… but often we hide our losses. We take out insurance, to make sure that we simply cannot lose financially. We set up laws to preserve continuity of property, and then employ a justice system and police force to guard us against behaviours that cause too high a level of risk of loss.
BADGES OF HONOUR
And many are addicted to badges of honour. We try to dress in a way that symbolises our place in society. We choose possessions with appearance and functions in keeping with our aspirations. We ask each other what we do, as though our official roles define us. And we subtly position ourselves among our peers, often quietly asserting that our class or grouping is the best, and others are deficient in some way, more foolish or ignorant.
A QUESTION OF MOTIVATION
Bolstering one’s own importance, however, is based on a self-centred motivation that cannot keep you happy.
The person who gets angry when ignored, tends to become lonely
The person who wins the accolade of ‘the best’, tends to become isolated
The person who sets up sophisticated systems of self-protection, tends to become closed-off
The person who tries to set themselves apart as superior, tends to become distanced
Life is maybe not a pyramid to get to the top of by climbing on others’ heads. At the top of a pyramid, your kindness muscles will get weak from under-use, and eventually you will die from isolation.
A better way, perhaps, is to learn to take the weight of your own contentment. By this, I mean that, by making the effort to hold others as important, you can learn to stand alongside them instead of on top of them.
In this way:
The person who is patient when ignored, stays content
The person who gives others the victory, stays unpressured
The person who welcomes loss, stays rich, as they lack nothing
The person who wears the fewest badges, carries the least weight
If you drop the need to feel important, then you can instead feel content, peaceful, and light.
We like to feel important. We fight when we are ignored, we fight when others are prioritised, we fight to prevent loss, and we fight to appear superior.
Ultimately, though, this just leads to a feeling of loneliness, isolation and distance.
Instead, we can try to be patient, give others the victory, welcome loss, and stay humble.
This can help us to feel content, peaceful, and light.