Being valued

Appreciation works at different levels. What are they? What is the deepest?

I want to be valued. I want to be appreciated.

These are such common feelings, but: how, and for what? This has been a theme for me in the last few days, and in a way it's good that I haven't had a good opportunity to write for two days, as that has given the theme a chance to deepen and enrich itself in my mind.

The surface answers are fairly clear to me now. At Kegan's third order of consciousness,1 I want to be appreciated as playing my chosen, or allotted, traditional role well. I might want to be a good husband, a good father, a good teacher, and be valued for that. A good friend, maybe and maybe not, as the role of friend is not so well-defined. (Is that why I haven't been very good at keeping friends?) One aspect of wanting to please people is closely related to this. If other people are working from a traditional mindset, then they will have expectations about how I ‘should’ be behaving, to play my traditional role well. I will please them if I behave accordingly. The world will be as predicable as it can be. Everyone will at least know what is going on, even if they don't particularly enjoy being a good slave.

It's when people become self-authoring – Kegan's 4th order of consciousness – that pleasing people becomes rather trickier. If I'm living off a script that tells me that pleasing others is essential, then I won't ever get to my own self-authorship, unless I am unbelievably lucky and find someone who finds that my self-authored identity pleases them, along with their self-authored identity pleasing me. One stereotype that naturally comes up here is the idealised romantic idea of falling in love. The other one is the platitude about having to learn to please yourself – “believe in yourself, you are valuable, appreciate yourself!” On what grounds? one might ask.

A little quip came up today: “Is self-authorship plagiarism?” Plagiarise that at will; be my guest …

On the other side, with a well-developed 4th order consciousness, I can make the mistake of trying to be valued by telling people what they are doing wrong. Of course I know what is wrong, because I've done all that self-authoring work. And perhaps I've even done the science. The harder it felt, the more sure I am that I have arrived at the right conclusion. So I'm doing you a favour by telling you what you should be doing, and you should be grateful for that. You should appreciate it!

As if! But now I've run out of straightforward answers. What do I really want to be valued for, and what can I do that might result in that?

I'm reminded of something Arnold Mindell wrote:

Leaders try to be better at their jobs; elders try to get others to become elders.2

I read this thus. Leaders can lead from 3rd or 4th order: their ‘job’ can either be a traditional one, or one where they are working out their personal ambition and vision. Either way they will try to get followers who want to please them, quite possibly in the ways I've outlined above. Elders operate more at Kegan's 5th order. They are no longer interested in getting people to conform, either with established roles, or their own vision. They are interested in doing what it takes to help others reach that same post-ego attitude, where they are working for the ultimate good of all, maybe not in any ways that we can foresee.

How would I do that? The aim would be that people have whatever they really need, so that they can develop towards their best selves – what they truly want to become, when they fully recognise what that means. This is quite often not the first thing they think they want, and is has to be given in a way that they are able to take on, bypassing their defences, somehow. What is my role in that? No simple formula, to be sure. But the most important thing that I have to give is what is uniquely mine to give, or what no one else is in a position to give. And that comes back around, to my own responsibility to develop whatever it is that is specially mine to do, to contribute, to give. That ultimate image positively glows: to be appreciated, to be valued for contributing what is uniquely mine to give – what more could someone with a giving nature ask for? And it doesn't need to be so special or unique in quality either. Sometimes it is just the gift of rising to the occasion when no one else was there to do it. And maybe no one saw it: the unsung hero. No matter.

Something similar seems to work even at a more basic level. The last few days of my being busy included writing something that was mine to write, and it being received with genuine appreciation. In a small way, I put myself into that, and I felt recognised for my own personal contribution that no one else was in a position to do at that time. What this has in common with the previous examples, it seems to me, is taking the trouble to put oneself into something, and having that recognised. I do think many people say the same thing in some way or other, but it makes better sense to me framed as I have done here.

There are, of course, consequences. If I am going to be appreciated in this way, I need to refrain from doing stuff that anyone can do. I need to choose my own things to work on, and even when it's not just my choice, make them my own. People have been saying something like that for ages – along the lines of only doing what you love doing – but that seems to me to be the conclusion, leaving out the reasoning, leaving out really explaining where that comes from, why it is like that, and clarifying further by contrasting it with what it is not.

Why does this seem hard, I wonder? Is it?

But I don't want to leave the whole question there. To me, there is the important collective dimension. It doesn't need to be a personal heroic journey to develop the uniqueness that invites that appreciation. For sure, stories of the hero's journey can help inspire, but there is a danger of people feeling that they can't measure up to the hero archetype. And, to me, it's more than Mindell's vision of first reaching eldership and then helping others up the ladder.

There is something about being there collectively for each other. Not only to offer that day-to-day appreciation, valuable though that is in itself. Collectively, but still as individuals, we can help nudge each other into our own separate uniqueness, to be sure. But also, I'm looking for the actual collective uniqueness, that can be valued and appreciated.

What is better than myself being valued and appreciated? To be deeply connected with others in such a way that we have, between us, the gifts that are so much needed in our world, in a way, and at a depth, that we simply could not reach separately. To appreciate and value those we join with in this way; and to be appreciated and valued by them, as helping them to be a living part of what they could not reach alone by themselves. Stories about those relationships inspire me,3 but there is time for more to be written.

1: The work of Robert Kegan is very influential here. David Chapman gives a useful introduction.

2: From “Sitting in the Fire” ISBN 9781619710245 Chapter 13: The Metaskills Of Elders (p.184)

3: I'm thinking particularly of Theodore Zeldin's book “An Intimate History of Humanity”.

Topics: Complex psychology

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