Sunday Open Thread — Living and Dying on What Others Think of Us, and on What We Do Together

love model 2It’s taken me a while to realize how important the opinions of other people in my communities are to me. I keep saying that my blog is just my way of thinking out loud, getting my own thoughts and ideas in order, archiving what I’ve learned and discovered.

But it’s clear that, like everyone else, I crave attention and appreciation. Just like all the blog writers who face the long, uncertain and lonely process of building up an audience. Just like the Second Life (and First Life) denizens who long for partnership, for conquest, for “just one minute of real love“.

As Patti explained in her recent post, it’s amazing how fear and insecurity drives what we feel and do. And there is no greater fear than that of being alone, unloved, ostracized by those with whom we presume to share community. No wonder then that tyrants, manipulators, marketers, psychopaths and predators exploit our fears, tell us that if we don’t do and feel and think what they want, if we don’t become “everybody else”, we won’t get the attention and appreciation we crave — we will be alone.

We express our love for others not by saying “I love you” but through giving attention and appreciation to those we love, by doing something for others. This is why love has been such an evolutionary success: It gets things done. This is wonderful when the recipient of our love wants and values and reciprocates it. When it’s rejected it’s devastating. Just ‘being’ in love is impotent, hermetic, useless.

The challenge with online communities is that it’s harder to know, every day, what you’re doing for others. You have to rely on them to tell you, over and over, because they can’t show you how much your attention and appreciation does for them, gives them. That’s why I think so many consider online communities insufficient, and insist that the “song of a warm, warm body” is needed to convey and achieve real love, real conversation, real community. Second Life, and video/audio/IM conversations at least get halfway, because they’re multimedia (more sensory clues, in the diagram at right) and real-time. But still…

Still, we live and die on the attention and appreciation we get when we give attention and appreciation to others. My heart soars when the smile I give to a stranger on the subway is returned. I feel delight when the flirtatious remark I give to another at a party, or in an IM discussion, or in a chance meeting in Second Life, is reciprocated.

I am more alive when I hear the whisper of one I love in my ear, telling me what she loves about me. When my comment provokes nods, “yes…and” responses, joyful laughter and warm smiles. When someone I love pushes me down and climbs on top of me for the pleasure she knows, and I know, I can give her. When a conversations suddenly becomes intimate as two of us spark with “aha” realizations, learning from each other, discovering things we already knew but suddenly become clear, thrilling, full of astonishing promise.

When I share an experience, a moment of appreciation of something important, valuable, beautiful with others — a sunset, a quotation that bristles with meaning, a sudden caress, a turn of phrase, a compliment, the view from a mountaintop, the smell of rain, the taste of fresh-picked berries, the sound of a cathedral choir — these are so much more powerful than when they are experienced alone. These are life-changing moments of connection, so rare and important. We can never get enough of them.

I can understand, from an evolutionary point of view, why such moments of mutual attention and appreciation, and shared attention and appreciation, are selected for, and essential to us, filling an insatiable empty space in us. What will forever fill me with awe is how such moments and our search for them can drive us to such incredible heights and lengths, of courage and self-sacrifice and infidelity and sheer madness. And, when they are missing, to equally incredible depths of despair.

Of course we are social creatures — it is to our benefit to be so. But why, and how, can we live and die so much on what others think of us that everything else becomes grey, empty, meaningless? And how can we learn, for our own well-being and that of those we love, and that of those we will never meet but who will be touched in turn by those we love, to be better and more generous at giving and receiving attention and appreciation? If we could all learn to transform our world’s terrible attention deficit and scarcity of appreciation into one of abundance,is there anything we could not then achieve?

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5 Responses to Sunday Open Thread — Living and Dying on What Others Think of Us, and on What We Do Together

  1. Dave,now you’re talking!Philip

  2. Theresa says:

    Its so true the power of love in getting things done. Thanks for a wonderful read.

  3. Amanda says:

    First: While we’re on the topic, I wanted to let you know how much I really do enjoy reading your blog. It’s not often that I comment on any of your posts, but I can say that, after reading them, they tend to make a lasting impression, they spark nodes of personal inquiry and thought. And during periods of mental dormancy due to lack of intellectual stimuli, they are very much appreciated. Second: Concerning MITs and the theory that they will replace civilization when this one fails… I agree and I don’t. I agree that what we have now, our “way of life” isn’t a life at all. I think you’re absolutely correct when you say we have become so isolated from others in our respective communities and in our own world. I despise the imbalance of wealth and power that unfortunately has become the alpha and omega of everything that drives everyone. Aside: due to the writers’ strike here, the Golden Globes were essentially canceled last night. This was all the news on CNN, and one statistic reported was that the cancellation cost the industry some 8 million dollars. At that point I turned the tv off because I couldn’t help feeling pissed off thinking about the millions of people who live on less than a dollar a day… The things some people find so important are so not important in the bigger picture… Anyway (I guess that aside turned into a tangent), I guess the only place I disagree is thinking there will be a civilization after this one falls. This comment kind of veered off topic towards the end. But this is some of the things you’ve impelled me to think about that I’ve never shared. And I wanted to… better late than never, n’est pas?

  4. Paul says:

    The future looks pretty dark. I think that most likely we will go through a lot of hell, and many might die long before we suppose we “ought” to. I think the leadership (or inspiration) that Dave and others offer might possibly help us to avert catastrophe, or mitigate it somehow–but I’m not counting on that, I’m not very hopeful. Instead I think that, regardless of what the future holds, Dave is helping us think about how we can build loving, productive relationships as broadly as possible, to carry us through the mess. I don’t think we’re planning a utopia, as much as helping each other understand what’s going on and learning how to support each other–emotionally and materially–to the extent that we can. Whatever power is in love, let’s try to know it and use it for our sake and the world’s sake.

  5. Steve Hinton says:

    Let me echo the first commenter, Dave, i really DO APPRECIATE your blog – read every new post and are just so glad you do what you do. Don’t listen to the negative stuff, you are exploring new territory and I appreciate that you both move into that territory AND write about it succinctly.The power of appreciation is undervalued in this fiscally oriented world. If you look at what humans are built for it IS appreciation. Everything else we are not perfect at. that power of appreciation is the power of love. If we could accept that love is the natural state for humans and not living in a community that is fear driven the world would be saved. We wouldn’t even have to save it!

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