Do you ever feel annoyed by the barrage of advertising that confronts us every day where someone is trying to persuade you to buy their product because they have determined that it is something that you really need? Your life will be incomplete until you purchase their product. All advertising begins with creating discontent followed by the massaging of desire.
Well, the same thing is happening in the world of people. We have been overwhelmed with a thousand techniques to add value to our lives based on beguiling premises such as “you are worth it” until finally we convince ourselves that we really are okay and are entitled to a happy and peaceful life. Catchy phrases which promise us unlimited achievement and success and assurances that nothing is impossible. Now, I am not saying that we are not worthwhile, I am simply challenging the sell — that incessant pitch that we can change our core value by external add-ons, much like computer application plug-ins. The idea that you only have to dream something to make it happen is pure fancy. The dream may motivate and inspire but there us much more to success than dreaming. Countless dreams never get past first base when woken by reality. Highly successful people always have had a dream, but many more dreamers have fallen by the wayside, defeated by circumstances often beyond their control.
In the previous post we noted that the popularised concept of self-esteem has been built on pseudoscience. It took off in the USA and spread to much of the Western world with its tremendous feel-good appeal and promise of adding value to people through a methodology of formula-driven techniques. However it turns out to be a bit of a slick advertising sell where you get sucked in to buying something which, with time, turns out to be something quite different. A lick of glossy paint and a few gimmicks has sold us a pup.
Here is an example. The quote on the left is a typical popular ‘warm fuzzy’ that buzzes around social media pages. The reality is that life can unexpectedly bring any number of awful experiences. None of us can claim immunity. Life does not confine itself to bringing only good experiences. The longer you live, the more likely you are to face bad ones too. And what does it mean to be “open to new and wonderful changes”? Are you also ‘open’ to loss, grief and pain. This is pink fluff thinking. Sweet fairy floss with no substance. Flimsy quotes like this do nothing to prepare us for those ‘below the belt’ punches that life too often delivers. Rarely do we have the luxury of choosing whether shit happens or not. Ideas like this are more likely to devalue and disappoint us. It is false advertising with a suspect price tag that does not prepare us for reality. Statements of privilege and entitlement like this imitation gem sow seeds of discontent and create an undesirable desire.
The human price tag
So, lets get back to the question of how much are we really worth, and how can we fairly assess that worth. In our materialistic world we are prone to place a value on just about everything, including each other. When you stop and think about it, we all wear a hypothetical price tag. In various ways we each project a message of how much we think we are worth. Some inflate their price while others depreciate themselves. Then there are those who, like Goldilocks, get it “just right”. We are also quick to give an estimate on the value our fellow. We all have our opinions of others, whether we actually know them or not. The more prominent the person, the more sharply defined the opinion. There is no escaping it. We put price tags on each other, and the corollary is that others place their price tags on us.
This dynamic is the foundation of social interaction. We endeavour to connect with those we deem valuable and avoid those who are not. The laws of attraction or repulsion kick in immediately we meet someone for the first time. First impressions really are lasting impressions, even if they don’t end up being permanent impressions. If we like their appearance, the sound of their voice, their wit or their wisdom, or if they come highly recommended, or are famous, we will tick the mental checklist and come up with a plus or a minus score which will determine whether to accept or reject. Not unlike shopping, we take a close look at the product and then check out the price tag. If the balance between quality, value and price is acceptable we will probably go ahead and buy. Sussing each other out is central to the business of determining the value of our fellow.
Three things to bear in mind.
- Price tags have a profound influence on us and once they have been applied are difficult to change. This principle applies to the price we place on ourselves as well as the estimate that others place on us. Once in place we subconsciously tend wear the price-tag. It can be hard to shake and lends itself to being a self-fulfilling prophecy as we yield to a sense of inevitability that this is our personal reality.
- If we don’t set our own price tag, someone else will. It is up to us to determine our core value which, of course, is the tricky bit. Do we have the capacity to do that? Are we in danger of conning ourselves and others too by pretending to be someone we aren’t? Is it even our prerogative?
- Our estimates of others (and ourselves) are often hit-and-miss conclusions which can sometimes be remarkably accurate and glaringly wide of the mark at other times. Not knowing all the facts still doesn’t deter us from evaluating each other, an exercise which is made all the more fraught when we often evaluate people by the masks they wear and the illusions they create. To make things even more complicated we are easily led by the strong opinions of others. Whether verbal or non-verbal, subtle or explicit their input can seriously influence how we decide whether a person is okay or not. Just look at the phenomenon of populism if you want an example.
What is our core value and how is it determined?
Stand in front of the mirror, strip off the masks, stop pretending and try to get a good look at the person in front of you. Don’t play that silly game that some people encourage you do which involves saying, “I like myself, I like myself!” over and over again until you start to like yourself. That is stupid pop-psychology and another serving of fairy floss or pink fluff. Instead try asking some tough questions like
- Would I buy a car from this person?
- Am I looking at a person who cheats when they can get away with it?
- Does this person manipulate others to get what they want?
- Is this person able to forgive and let go?
- Is the someone who spends too much time feeling angry and guilty?
- Is this person in the mirror a kind and considerate person?
- Can I live with this person?
- Is this someone who is able to see the good in others?
The exercise is not an attempt to create feelings of self-loathing or self-congratulation. It is simply shifting the focus to what makes us truly valuable. If I can genuinely add value to myself I will be a much happier person. I just want to be able to trust and respect that person in the mirror. This is the person I live with twenty-four hours a day.
Much of what follows is a simple and practical look at how to establish and maintain a good price tag. Value adding is achievable, it is simple but it is also challenging. The social spin-off is that as you add genuine value to yourself, others will recognise it and come to respect you – a pretty good bonus. Furthermore, the loop of social feedback will confirm that you are on the right track. The price tag that you set for yourself eventually becomes the one that others will see and accept.
None of this is about perfection. Your humanity has predetermined the impossibility of that. Neither is it a competition or an exercise in comparison. It is about crafting and creating something, someone of value. It is about building and growing of character. A lifetime of choices and actions that imperceptibly will change you and make you more valuable from the inside out. It is a gradual transition to being the person you want to be, the one you are content to live with and someone you can trust and love – You. Sort that out and things will begin to sort out.