Besides alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and sex, I’ve discovered a new addiction to worry about.
I spent last week on a spiritual retreat at the Trappist monastery in western Massachusetts, immersed in 24/7 silence, serious reading, and thought-provoking conferences—all dealing with transcendent sorts of things.
One of the things in my reading was the New Testament account of the scourging of Christ, which preceded his crucifixion.
The Roman governor, known today as Pontius Pilate, interviewed Jesus and found no evidence of any crime. Pilate’s wife, even while the governor was adjudicating in his role as judge, sent a message: "Have nothing to do with that righteous man.”
But the crowd outside was crying for blood, and to satisfy them, Pilate had Jesus whipped to an inch of his life and then packed him off for execution.
Like Lady Macbeth trying to wash the blood of King Duncan’s murder from her hands, Pilate ceremoniously washed his hands of the whole Jesus matter. In this way, he could satisfy the crowd with what they wanted, and still save face before his wife.
I was reminded of how much our actions and thoughts today are determined by how we believe we will be judged by others.
Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., defines it as an addiction.
Cohen identifies himself as one of the principal founders of philosophical counseling in the United States and is author of Logic-Based Therapy and Everyday Emotions.
His questions to you and me: Are you addicted to getting the approval of others? Do you demand it? Here’s what he says:
I have found that many people waste much of their life obsessively catering to others, doing things against their better judgment, jeopardizing the welfare of self, friends, family, and much more that they later come to regret.
Politicians comprise the go-to example of catering to the crowd—if not a crowd of constituents, then certainly of donors.
But what surprised me last week was the Ash Wednesday message by the Trappist abbot to the dozens of monks under his guidance. These are men who live in silence, gather in chapel for group prayer seven times a day, vow chastity and obedience. The abbot’s challenge to them: Do you still seek approval from other people?
Most of us, I’d bet, aren’t even aware of the desire for approval under which we operate.
The “crowd” we want to satisfy doesn’t have to be literal. The crowd could be our peer group, our boss, our spouse. Worst: the Self. Because we typically judge ourselves the harshest.
Author Henri J.M. Nouwen suggests that most people don’t think well of themselves. In his experience, even very successful people fear they someday will be exposed as “fakes.” It takes only one critical remark to put them in a tailspin, Nouwen says:
As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations.
"Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending—performing. You get to love your pretense. It's true, we're locked in an image, an act, and the sad thing is, people get so used to their image, they grow attached to their masks. They love their chains. They forget all about who they really are." These are the words of the late Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors rock group.
What it comes down to, I believe, is that—like The Doors—we’re all playing for applause.
Shakespeare, in As You Like It, captured the idea in his now famous lines:
All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.
The hope is that we are satisfied if the applause comes only from within. Because, according to Mark Twain, “The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”
Dr. Cohen again:
You can still prefer to have the approval of others, and feel good when you get it. But you can also feel like a worthy person when you don’t get it. You do not have to constantly live in a state of anxiety about whether you will soon fall from grace, and you do not have to sell your soul to gain anyone’s approval.
Or, in more graphic language, here’s actor Daniel Radcliffe:
I used to be self conscious about my height, but then I thought, fuck that, I'm Harry Potter.
If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at: Amazon