“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this, compulsive, need, to be liked. Like my need to be praised.” -Michael Scott
Let’s just be honest with each other. I like to be liked. You like to be liked. That’s why we are so addicted to Facebook. It’s a Like-fest, where we all give each other electronic pats on the back to affirm that our posts are witty, our lives are interesting, and our pictures make us look good.
Every time you click ‘like’ on one of my posts on Facebook, whether it is a link to one of these blog posts or simply a random thought, my self-esteem goes up. I feel good inside. I feel like someone has paid attention to me, like they have affirmed that I matter.
In fact, if I’m completely honest, I have to admit that some of what I post on Facebook is weighed against whether or not it will produce likes and comments. How many ‘likes’ will I get from this photo? How many clicks on my blog from this post? A post that yields no ‘likes’ is a failure, isn’t it?
It feels good to be liked, and social media has given us a means to measure just how ‘liked’ we are. We used to have to believe that people liked us (or didn’t like us). Now it is quantified in numbers and thumbs ups (or lack thereof) and the names of people who find us at least mildly entertaining.
So is this bad? Or is this only human?
It all depends on what our motivations are in the first place. I have read several articles lately criticizing the way we share our lives on social media. These have argued that there is something wrong with what we share, but I think the real problem lays in our motivations. The affirmation of our friends feels good. But are we posting because we are seeking out that affirmation, or are we posting because we have something we want to share with the world?
Let’s take a look at two extremes: an affirmation hog and an affirmation hermit.
If you have ever watched the Colbert Report, you know that part of Stephen Colbert’s comedy routine every night is to behave like an entirely self-obsessed narcissist who believes he is always right and always brilliant. Most late-night comedy shows greet the special guests to the stage with applause from the crowd, but not so on the Colbert Report. Colbert introduces his guest, who is already seated at the table, and then Colbert himself runs forward to take the applause from the crowd, bowing and waving for more.
It’s all meant for laughs, but it does shine a harsh spotlight on our apparent need to be applauded, to be patted on the back and told that we are special, just like everyone else.
A few weeks back, Colbert’s ego was on overdrive when he dedicated an entire episode to JD Salinger and his books. Salinger is the famous author of The Catcher in the Rye who became a recluse and stopped publishing later in life. Now, a few years after his death, his unreleased writings are about to be published, and so Salinger is posthumously back in the spotlight after hiding from it for 45 years.
Colbert interviewed Salinger’s biographer, Shane Salerno, and Colbert’s attention-seeking act was the perfect foil for Salinger’s own story. Colbert played it perfectly, feigning amazement at Salinger’s antisocial tendencies while deftly critiquing our generation’s need to be heard and be heard now. He explained Salinger’s life like this:
“In the final 45 years of his life, Sallinger did not publish any new material, despite reportedly writing every day. That’s right—he wrote things without immediately sharing them with the world, and I will give you a moment to tweet how strange that is.”
Bam. I don’t have a twitter account, but what is this blog if not my own attempt to immediately share the things I write with the world.
They went on to talk about why Salinger behaved as he did:
Colbert- “If the stuff is out there and he was writing every day…why do you think he didn’t let us see it?”
Salerno- “His religion, of Vedanta religion (a Hindu sect), says that you don’t do anything to feed your ego.”
C- “That stinks!…You have worked in Hollywood, so you may not know, but do you know how delicious it is to feed your ego?” (Laughter)
S- “But I think that’s why, that he really felt that the work itself is the reward. And then so after he passed away… the work will start to be released, so that he’s not there for the ego gratification of seeing it published, that it’s just a pure artist delivering his work to an audience.”
Now, I really like the ideal that Salinger supposedly strived for. It sounds noble and pure. I wish I could say that my work of writing is its own reward, that I never do anything to feed my ego. But that’s simply not true; sometimes being noticed is a big motivation for writing.
But I don’t totally buy Salinger’s philosophy either, not because I think it is a bad ideal, but because I don’t think we are meant to shut ourselves off from each other. We are called to live in community, and today that community includes an online universe built for feeding our egos. It is a strange community, but here we are, and we have to learn to navigate it while ignoring our cravings for attention.
And so this is not my last post. I am not going to keep my writing to myself for the rest of my life, even if it never comes close to Salinger’s level (and I assure you, it never will.) I am going to keep sharing it with you because I want to build you up. And I want you to build me up in the same way. Most of the time I am happy to know what is going on in your life, and I hope that you are happy to hear about my latest exploits too.
We should take a lesson from Colbert and Salinger, though. Colbert is a caricature of what we are becoming, a society of people who need to be affirmed by being ‘followed’, ‘friended’, and ‘liked’. Many of us have fallen into this pit.
We are digital people-pleasers. (Unless you are a troll–Stop being a troll.) And as much as people clamor for a ‘Dislike’ button on Facebook, not one of us could handle that sort of negative feedback from our peers. We must learn to have the attitude of Salinger, to bring to the world pure works of artistry, without hiding ourselves away either from our friends or our critics.
So where does your sense of self-worth come from? Does it come from the applause of lookers-on? Or does it come from knowing who you are within? Would something be lacking from your life if you could never again update your Facebook status? Will something be lacking from mine if you follow my instructions in this post’s title?
I want to learn to be satisfied with a job well done without having to tell anyone about it, but I also want to walk this road of life with my fellow travelers and share what I learn along the way. Like many things in life, it is a tightrope, and I don’t want to fall to either side.
To close, some words of wisdom from my favorite people on television, the cast of Parks and Rec:
“We do it because it is good and helps people, not to get the applause.” –Leslie Knope
“Don’t start chasing applause and acclaim. That way lies madness.” –Ron Swanson
“The pit…I fell in the pit…you fell in the pit…we all fell in the pit.” –Andy Dwyer