In the past, the more we contributed to the tribe and felt valued for our contribution, the more likely we were to stay in the tribe and live long enough to pass on our genes. Heaven help the poor person who, during a famine, couldn’t contribute to the tribe, and wasn’t valued by the tribe. They might return from a hunt one evening and find the tribe gone.
But if I told you to ‘contribute’ or ‘feel valued’ or ‘feel connected’ that wouldn’t help. Nor would telling you to ‘be loved’ , ‘be appreciated’, or ‘become indispensable’. We don’t have control over such things, so it is no use making them keys.
Besides, most of us already instinctively find ways to do that: we make friends, find a partner, achieve, assist a neighbour . . .
We feel we are contributing when we:
▪ feel appreciated by our employer, or by our colleagues,
▪ act charitably, volunteer;
A nineteen-year-old youth charged with arson was asked why he started bushfires, and then helped fire fighters put the fires out. Did he want the recognition? Did he want his name in the newspapers?
‘No,’ he replied. ‘It’s not that. I don’t need to see my name in the papers . . . I liked being needed to fight the fire.’
From the ABC Radio National program, ‘Bush Telegraph’, February, 2007
We feel valued when we:
▪ are appreciated, and thanked,
▪ are given a smile,
▪ are loved by a person, a loving god, a pet . . .
‘General Willard S. Paul once told me, with perfect sincerity, that the greatest moment of his life had been at the Battle of the Bulge when I put my arm around him and said, “How is my little fighting son of a bitch today?” He said that this remark inspired not only him, but every man in the division, and it is highly probable that it did.’
General George S. Patton, Jr. US Army. (From ‘Patton on Leadership’, by Alan Axelrod.)
We feel connected when we:
▪ experience all of the above,
▪ we wear a uniform,
▪ we feel comfortable being with people living different ways of life,
▪ are a member of a gang, tribe, team or clan.
▪ we don’t feel the need to earn the approval of others.
Q. ‘Mark, if we like being valued, why don’t we boast about our achievements more often?’ Talking about your contribution might cheapen the value of another person’s contribution. Recognise your need to be valued, but don’t vie for attention, and don’t grab someone else’s glory.
‘The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.’
Q. ‘Why are there vandals? Why are there criminals? They’re not contributing; they’re not valued.’
Perhaps vandals feel valued by fellow vandals, in the same way gang members feel valued by each other.
‘Are you saying that kids in gangs engage in criminal behaviour to feel valued by other gang members?’
It’s probably one reason. A member of any gang (of lawyers, a sports team, a political party . . .) might act dishonourably to get approval from their peers.
Q. ‘Mark, you say we need to be valued. But voluntary workers don’t cartwheel for joy when a new day dawns. And Mother Theresa, who assisted the poor in Calcutta, was apparently one cranky lady writing angry letters to God.’
Three possible reasons:
1. Voluntary workers can become bored or habituated to the same gratitude.
2. They might not get enough appreciation to make the job enjoyable.
3. They might get all the appreciation they need and are sated quickly. We don’t need much. The farmer who grew the wheat for your breakfast cereal and for a million other breakfasts won’t experience your gratitude, but that farmer will still feel proud of their achievement, and feel they are contributing. We don’t need heaps of feedback. A little bit goes a long way. Normally.
Entertainers seem to need lots of affirmation.
‘And Mother Theresa? She would have felt valued by the people she nurtured. Why wasn’t she euphoric?’
The same. Either she didn’t feel appreciated, or she was sated. Perhaps her ‘cup was empty’ and she also needed nurturing.