I just dipped my toes in to the new season of Black Mirror, the first episode, called ‘Nosedive’ deals with being digitally ‘liked’ to the ‘n’th degree, in fact, your social standing, lifestyle, livelihood, day to day existence depending on it. It got me thinking.
Do we have the ability to live in a validation-free society? (Should we even strive for that?) Can we create without validation? Is art defined by it’s validation?
As far as the art question, I had a passionate debate with a roomate about the definition of art, and how art is measured. We were trying to define the general rule of thumb about what makes something a work of art, recognized as such, and what makes something worth creating. The two sides of the argument came out roughly as, if a creative piece is publically praised, critically responded to, appreciated, enjoyed (or stirs any kind of emotion with a number of people, positive or negative) then it is validated as ‘art’.
The other, arguably more optimistic side of the argument is that the act of creation itself is the ‘art’….if you are alone in your apartment, and you make a sketch, and then you put the sketch in the cupboard right after completing it, or burn it the minute your pencil leaves the paper, then you have still created a work of art, even if nobody else ever knows about it. The act of you sitting down, putting pencil to paper, bringing in to existance lines on a page makes something that didn’t exist before, therefore, you have made a work of ‘art’.
As a digital content creator, it is in my best interest to seek and recieve validation in everything I do. My bank balance depends on it. I cannot set out to independantly create, no matter how valid and justified I may feel in the process, I need external seals of approval in order to complete the contract, and of course, I enjoy being complimented for a job well-done. Perhaps this has colored my own search for validation over time.
The argument is using validation as a yardstick of worth/value, vs. doing something for it’s own sake, not needing anything externally. I was reading an article, and it said seeking external validation harms self-worth, which roughly follows the act of creation for creations’ sake argument….but isn’t self-worth just self-validation? Seeking the strength of internal conviction, that fundamental gut-based, morality of right and wrong, of justification in thoughts, actions, and deeds, isn’t that just validation from within, rather than from elsewhere? What makes self-worth a more justified form of validation that if we recieve it from some external source? After all, it is based on a personal set of guidelines, feelings, knowledge that might be as fundamentally flawed, biased, and incorrect as from any random ‘like’ on our Facebook feed.
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common. They all wanted validation.”
Oprah Winfrey, on her final talk show appearance.
The more spiritually inclined outlook, is to seek validation from within, that there is an inherent falsehood to the persuit of validation from outside. To listen and appreciate your inner voice, to find strength of conviction from yourself. I think there is nothing inherently wrong with this, as hard, or counter-intuitive as it might appear in this modern, interconnected world, it is a good idea to build upon a solid foundation of self-worth; a person built upon this can only be a stronger, more confident person because of it, and will likely project the same to others. However, that is assuming that you are building the right kind of foundations, that your basis for your self-worth is built on the right kind of positive convictions. If you are confident and self-assured that your kind of asshole is the best kind of asshole; that you’re going to be the brightest, best asshole around, that your version of ass-hattery is the finest around, then, at best, youre going to be a real asshole. Nothing more.
Social Media. As horrifying as it is empowering; as beneficial as it is inhibitive; as useful as it is useless. Our posts casually scream NOTICE ME as we eat at the restaurant, as we cut our hair, as we love this person, as we recognize another. There is a sticky, uncomfortable sheen, a thin layer attached to our funny phrases, our pictures of things we want to share, of our anecdotes, of our social outrage and compassion, that extra layer of validation, that the post becomes more meaningful, empowering, justified, if that little blue thumbs up, or that small red heart appears next to it. We are prodded and reminded each and every time someone else pauses for a second to connect with our outpourings, of joy, grief, creativity and that in turn feeds back to us, to remind us that we exist in the digital reflections of others. If we are brutally honest, it’s that extra layer that compells us onwards to post, to engage, to interact with these media giants. We question our ego, our self-worth if we post without response, without any external engagement….we wonder if we are liked by our friends, our peers, our tennuous connections we build up in this new-era community if we post for a period of time with a lack of validation.
Love. Relationships. A part of the reason we seek love and affection is the connection we recieve from people of like minds and hearts. It cannot be denied that, even in the most self-strong people, a compliment from a loved one makes them smile; an attempt to lift downtrodden spirits from someone loved and trusted is appreciated and noted. And there is nothing wrong with these acts! However, the ego craves it also, that feeling of validation from another. Again, the other side, seek it from within, but it is still validation.
Is there a way of living without validation? Surely this would mean as well as stopping seeking it from others, we would also need to strip down our own foundations of self-worth? Where does that leave us, as empty shells? Can we create with complete purity and stay completely in the moment without projecting and seeking external praise? Should we even attempt to do this? Sometimes external validation can come at us from different, unbiased angles, free of internal anchors, that may be more valid and justified than our own potentially flawed outlooks.
I am posing more questions than I have answers for. Personally speaking, I am at an awkward age. I think I am going through various stages of a lack of self-worth, and a questioning of external validation, and I think it comes along with middle-age. I have been relatively fragile in 2016, many uncomfortable shifts and unfamiliar feelings. My own moral foundation has crumbled somewhat, and there is a lack of external support that leaves me questioning most things, doubting more. I realize as my fingers press on my laptop keys that with each stroke I am also silently screaming in to the digital void for some form of connection, and because of my distrust of external validation, I will question genuine warmth and compliments if indeed I actually recieve them. I lack the strength of conviction to believe that I type purely as a selfless act of expression, that my fingers connecting with the keys is the creation of a form of art in itself; that if I were to highlight and delete this entire essay, that I would go to bed and dream deep and easy without even a twinge of regret that these words are not published. So, I post, I share, and I wait with guilt for those little digital connections that I will question and scrutinize and doubt upon reciept. I cannot win.