I’m listening to an interview by eminent Pakistani educationist, Dr Arfa Sayeda Zehra. Her Urdu is lilting and I am not able to decipher some difficult words that she uses. But I get the gist of her message. She is talking of the immense possibilities of social media being an instrument of positive change in society. Unfortunately, as she eloquently puts it, it has become like “bandar ke haath mein adrak” (a colloquial expression which means monkeys cannot value the taste of ginger). But what she goes on to say further simply resonates with me.
She says, there was a time when we used to write our diaries. And half our energies were expended in trying to keep these diaries away from the prying eyes of the world. And now we have this maniac obsession of posting every little thing on social media. There is no privacy any more. Worse, we get upset if we don’t start getting positive responses to our posts within minutes. Isn’t that so true?
What is this obsession with external validation? Is it really a recent manifestation? Or is it something that always existed in society albeit in a different form? Unfortunately for more than half this world, people’s self-worth is often tied to what others think about them. And we end up trying to mould ourselves in order to please others. What we forget is that everyone has their own influences when they respond to, judge, criticise or praise another being. And this might have nothing to do with you as a person.
Maybe the origin of this need for validation starts from childhood. As you grow up you are expected to conform to a prototype imagined by your parents. One is hardly accepted for what they are. You are told that this is what you have to be. And eventually life begins by trying to do everything to please one’s parents. You mould yourself, not the way you want, but in the manner they visualize for you. The same trend follows in school, where one’s real personality is hardly allowed to emerge, and definitions of good, average and poor are pre-determined with very narrow stereotypes. Acceptance of anything different is hard to come by. The fear of rejection looms large. To receive praise, you eventually learn to conform and never learn to confront an opinion you disagree with. When you find a spouse, you have your own ideas. And you are both trying to fit the other in what you imagined them to be. It is a vicious trap, where your own original self is subconsciously suppressed, and you look outside for validation.
We never stop to ask ourselves what we want. Our definitions of success are driven by external opinions. A plush car, a big house, a fast paced lifestyle is what we chase, because everyone else is doing it. Life becomes a roller coaster ride. Your days are determined by how others seemingly view you.
The truth is that everyone is too busy in their own lives worrying about themselves. They have no time to think about anyone else. The earlier one realizes it, the better. Time to free oneself from the shackles of invisible bonds of approval. Time to find approval from within.