Approval matters to me. External validation of my worth is important to me. Being social and fitting in matter to me. Contributing in a constructive way; participating in generally-making-things-better matters to me. It stems from insecurity (Do people really like me?), and it stems from conceit (I have valuable ideas people should pay attention to!).
I was told recently that my post about What we Teach Men was cookie-seeking. It’s not actually a term I had heard before, but I take it to mean that I was shallowly trying to gain the approval of people. Well, guilty as charged. I don’t pose at any special insight or profundity. And I freely admit: I seek the approval of people whom I respect. Having thoughtful people tell me that they agree with me or that I have done well is important to me. It’s how I know that I’m contributing meaningfully. If the people I respect tell me I’m getting it wrong, I have to reevaluate and think more carefully.
There was (at least one) something I got wrong in that post. Michael Tomasson pointed it out to me (and I may still get his point wrong…). When I wrote, “It’s not about rules”, I over-simplified. Of course there need to be rules for acceptable conduct. And of course people need to be held accountable to them. I hadn’t intended to suggest otherwise, but I also didn’t make it explicit. My aspiration, in writing the post, was to describe what I believe is a much-needed mentorship relationship between established and younger men, which allows us to use our strengths to help improve the working environment. But it also needs to be clear – regardless of intent – there are acceptable and unacceptable types of interactions, and those rules should exist and be enforced, with mechanisms for addressing transgressions.
I am at peace with my cookie-seeking. Some describe the lofty path of railing against all, ruggedly lonesome, as an ideal. The pioneers, who don’t care what anyone thinks and are going to cut their own path regardless of obstacles, are held up as a noble imago. And surely, we need people like that. But that is not the role I’ve chosen for myself. I desire social approval. Camaraderie. Social networks are crucial in my life.
Social networks of varying types are utterly necessary for me. The social network of AA has saved my life. The social network on twitter has inspired my academic pursuits, and my career ambitions. Family, university, community. These things support me in ways that I frequently don’t have the strength to muster on my own. And I try, often failing, to contribute back to those social systems. By helping others to find sobriety. By sharing ideas that I hope find purchase in the academic world, and the meta-academic world.
Yes, dear reader, I am seeking your approval. Because I value the opinions of the people I respect. I am conceited, absolutely. But I am not so conceited as to think that my ideas cannot be refined by the application of the fire of peer-review. I do hope that people find something of value here. And I hope that if what they find here is wrong, that they’ll tell me why they think so. Because thoughtful engagement and collaborative debate helps me feel like I contribute better. And that makes me feel useful. And I like me when I’m useful.
So. Cookies please. I’m not too proud to admit I like them.