His name is Ben Van Alboom, he’s Belgian and he’s a ‘journalist’. He wears big glasses to emphasize his face, just like I sometimes do.
I don’t know him, a friend said something about an article -not written by Alboom- that he saw on his Facebook page and had commented on.
I’ve never seen any of his work, it could be good, I don’t know, that’s not what this post is about. .Apparently Ben does something in the media, the label ‘journalist’ could be stretching the concept just a tiny bit.
We use this example because he obviously wouldn’t mind the attention, plus he’s not famous, so he’s a good ‘case study’. He writes on his Facebook page that someone spontaneously recognized him on the street in Ireland, something of a ‘breaking news’ sort of thing, since he’s Belgian, and not Irish. He has to have a Facebook page of course, we live in a time we are all building our brand and our brand = me me me!
There’s a saying going something like: ‘a rich man doesn’t have to tell you he’s rich’. Just imagine Obama, Beyoncé or Matt Damon running to their Facebook page to yell: ‘Someone recognized me on the streets in Ireland!!!’ The fans wouldn’t go wild, right? Unless they thought it was a good joke. Of course these people get recognized on the street everywhere in the western world… Ben Van Alboom doesn’t get recognized everywhere he goes and so it’s worthy of a selfie. No, it demands a selfie. He must share it. He can’t pass on this moment of external validation, the boost to his ego is so big, he needs to share it with his followers (I always think of paranoaics here), he wants to stretch this juicy moment by getting more reactions to it. That’s my theory at least, perhaps I’m wrong.
In a culture where our biggest fear is that we do not matter, that in the bigger scheme of things we are insignificant, worthless, without impact, we are craving huge amounts of external validation to feel alive. Social media may aggravate this streak in us, but I think we live in a culture where we have become the alpha and omega of our own existence. It’s not any God, not any tribal myth, not the survival of our people or the glory of our nation or our church that gives meaning and a direction to our lives. There’s no bigger story we feel part of, nothing bigger than life that makes our own needs less important, and our own individual achievements less of an imperative. We are left to our own needy egos, and our greatest fear becomes that we are nothing, that our actions will vanish when our physical bodies are moldering in the grave or incinerated. So we are constantly on the lookout for proof that we do matter, that what we do resonates with others. Why it resonates doesn’t matter, only that it resonates. There are no clear values behind our actions, we are not aware of what we want to bring to world, we just want to do whatever can supply us with external validation.
Some train their muscles and/or swallow sterorids to get some external validation. Some make YouTube videos about shopping for clothes. Some make cupcakes. Some write little blogs like this one. Some try to impress you with their language skills. Some constantly refer to their job at a small university. Some try to get their validation fix by owning a fancy car. Others travel all around the world, the main objective often being sharing the pictures of their travels on social media, the travelling not being the goal in itself, but the attention derived from it.
We are living in the realms of the hungry ghosts. We have huge bellies screaming for nutrition, and tiny necks to swallow it. We crave more validation than we could possible get and if we did get it, it wouldn’t really nurture us, the fear of not mattering would still be there. The only cure is to find something bigger than ourselves to believe in, to contribute to, to help a bigger entity move forward. I see it in my own wife, I see it in my Slovak parents (parents in law sounds too distant), I see it in my mother, I see it in quite a lot of Slovaks I meet, they have their catholic faith, and they don’t post selfies, they rarely broadcast their achievements. They are at peace with the fact that in the bigger scheme of things -if such a scheme exists- they are a mere blimb on the radar and no amount of external validation can ever change that fact. They can only contribute to the greater whole, by living a life dedicated to the values of a community that has been around for about 2,000 years and will quite likely survive them for at least a century and probably more, if not eternally if what they believe in happens to be a real thing. They have a source of internal validation. I am part of the big X, therefore I matter, because the big X matters to me and my family and many others. No need for selfies. No need to broadcast to the world that somebody validates them.
Personally I am like Ben Van Alboom. I might share the same post, only to be embarassed about it later. That’s why I have finally changed the name of this blog. It was getting very embarassing to share a link that carried my name, as though insignificant little me was worthy of its own web page…
This site needs to be about authenticity and about people’s search for lasting, wholesome happiness. I hope to somehow learn to contribute to bigger stories and to teach myself to stop broadcasting myself and being a slave to the search for external validation.
I’d like to end with a quote by Carl Gustave Jung: ‘Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves‘. I have to thank Ben Van Alboom for the opportunity to learn something. I remember times in college when strangers sometimes stopped me on the street saying: ‘You’re the one who writes those romantic articles about his girlfriends’ and things like that. Did those moments make me happy? A little bit during that moment, yes. I remember them all too vividly. Those were joyful experiences, but at the same time I instantly craved more. If I could buy that feeling in a pill, I’d be popping tons of them every day. Why is only this one person stopping me? What about the 100 I’ve passed in the street during the last five minutes alone? Why didn’t the same thing happen yesterday? Why can’t this girl be a producer at a television network and give me a bigger platform? Or I would use the moment to try and sleep with the girl, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. The drive of living like a rock star, without actually being a rock star at all…
I once read that the Beatles survived the mass hysteria of Beatlemania bringing them oceans of external validation only because they locked themselves up in the bathrooms of their hotelrooms and kept each other’s ego in check. If one started to take it all too seriously the others brought him back to earth.
In short, we need something above us.
For me it’s looking for what makes a person happy or at least very content about his life, what makes a person live a life that he or she feels truly good about and trying to share that wisdom. Happy people induce happines in others, whereas hurt people end up hurting others and passing on their pain. At the same time I like to try my best to make sense of human history and hunt up facts as accurately as possible. I forget about myself when I try to know for sure to what extent tariffs or slavery caused the American Civil War. And sometimes when I use my knowledge about these events to score some external validation by throwing this knowledge in someone’s face, it leaves me feeling drained and annoyed with myself afterwards. Then I go back to a Civil War book and read it to connect with the bigger thing and leave my ravenous ego out of it.
Live an authentic day!
PS I can’t say Ben Van Alboom is a bad person or a good person, that’s not what I wanted to say at all, I don’t know him, he seems quite sweet, I just stumbled across one example of what I’ll call – for the sake of this blog post- ‘selfie culture’ and used it to get rid of a thought that’s been brewing in my head for months.
PPS Do I write this post to score a hit of external validation? Sure, that’s part of it, I’m an inhabitant of the realm of the hungry ghosts. If that realm handed out ID’s, I’d have one in my wallet. But A) I rarely get any external validation from writing blog posts B) I honestly tried to explore an observation hoping to cause some postive effect, I leave it up to the reader to determine if this is the case or not.
PPPS Thanks to my friend and philosopher Ruben for a stimulating conversation on my achievement fetish and many other thought provoking topics. He makes music, which you can check out here.