Psychology Today published a September 2009 piece titled The Theory of Social Validation, which boils down to the fact that “you’re not great until someone says you are.”
I had a flashback to Adrianos Facchetti writing for the nattily named Blog for Profit, vehicle of a lawyer disbarred for raiding an infants trust to teach other lawyers to be as successful as him. Adrianos’ point was how he became acknowledged as an overnight expert because Google said he was. This was part and parcel of what the marketers taught, to fabricate an existence, an expertise, and have others praise you for it. And so you are.
It caused me to ponder my great failing for having neglected this lesson that others around me learned too well. My failure to capitalize on search engine optimization, while others who stumbled into the blawgosphere minutes ago will appear higher on the Google page due to artful language and linking, was a clear indication of my failure to grasp the power of social media. But it’s nothing compared to my failure to become an integral member of a tribe.
This was brought home by a comment from a fellow blogger, Scott Henson, the other day. In a comment at best tangentially related to the post, Scott, better known by his blog name, Grits for Breakfast, wrote:
With respect, you’re a very smart person who has occasionally posted stupid things about others, particularly sweeping generalizations about young people based on snippets from blog posts, blasting anyone who thinks it’s the wrong approach telling them this is not the “Happysphere.” I largely agree with the point of this post, but perhaps you’re not the best messenger?
Putting aside his mixing of my posts about the Slackoisie with my posts about the Happysphere, I was surprised by Scott’s comment. I emailed him after responding, asking if there was a particular reason why he chose to pick a fight with me. I’ve got no beef with Scott, who has done yeoman’s work keeping tabs on Texas criminal law doings, even though he’s not a lawyer. That he disagreed with my views on either the Slackoisie or the Happysphere was inconsequential. Plenty of people don’t see it, and that’s why I write about it. Nor do I care about his characterizing my message as “stupid”, a reference to a line I had used in my post in a different context.
It was the underlying message that disturbed me. I would be a better messenger if only I was more of a team player. Stick with the program, Greenfield, and stop telling the tribe that they aren’t wonderful. As the blawgosphere ebbs and flows, many are young and new to the law and criminal justice. Some bear the indicia of the Slackoisie, narcissism and entitlement, and most seek social validation, to be told they are “great”. If only I fed them what they want to hear, they would love me in return. Then they would willingly heed my message.
Why anyone cares what I think of them is beyond me. Are they that fragile? Who am I that anyone would give a hoot about my approval? Or disapproval, for that matter? As Mike Cernovich recently wrote,
Until I have given you love or respect, you have no power over me. I therefore care not what you say.
I have no power over anyone in the blawgosphere. If something I write hurts someone, its a product of their giving my words power over them. I can’t hurt anyone beyond the power they attribute to me. If what I write is “stupid”, as Scott says, then why would anyone feel badly about it?
So the answer, it appears, would be for me to embrace the Happysphere, write nice things about others on the team, or at least never speak ill of them. When someone writes something particularly idiotic, find some positive spin to make them feel appreciated (Joe’s post spelled every word correctly, even the ones with more than two syllables), or at least give them the insipid “great post” no matter how worthless it is. By doing so, I could ingratiate myself with other members of the tribe and bask in their warmth and comfort.
But this isn’t why I’m here.
If there’s any legacy I hope to see as an offshoot of my posts, it’s that I was always an honest broker. I wrote the truth as I saw it. I called them as I see them. For better or worse, I wrote what I thought. Not that I was necessarily right, but that I never spun to curry favor or appease the tribe. Marketers call this “being genuine.” They wouldn’t know genuine if it bit them in the ass. Genuine is when you’re willing to have your natural allies call you stupid because you won’t stick with the program.
I can’t tell you how many opportunities I’ve missed to gain the adoration of others on the internet. From young lawyers, to bar association “leaders”, to those maligned by the criminal justice system. I’m constantly tested to show them approval, what one law student told me was “respect” when she demanded that I acknowledge her worthiness. It would be so easy to blow smoke up a multitude of butts, and I’ve no doubt that my show of deep approval for them would return to me in spades. What’s so hard about telling people that they’re great, even if they aren’t? It would make them feel very happy, like when you say “good job” to three year olds. The smile on their faces could light up a room. What’s wrong with that?
It’s just not true. And they aren’t three years old anymore. Of course, if you don’t make others happy, they won’t tell you how great you are. And that’s what social validation is all about.
There is no doubt in my mind that I could be much nicer to others, more agreeable to the tribe and stop writing things that don’t comport with the party line. But if I did, I would disappoint myself and fail to be the honest broker I hope to be. No matter what anyone wrote about me on the internet, I would not be “great”.