A certain amount of social grace is useful: the ability to make small talk, to build connections between others, to find points of commonality and bring them together. We need people who knit us together as much as we need people willing to confront what is unspoken or unjust in community. We need those who quietly take part, finding a place among the throng, offering a simple contribution that makes sound the greater whole. As much as we love paying attention to the famous, the celebrity, the larger-than-life, it would be exhausting and unworkable if every person we met burned with the same fire.
Even still, we might feel some longing to stick out in some way, to be seen as divine even if only by one person. We might have some need or want that demands attention. A feeling of urgency arises, demanding action. “This matters to me, and it should matter to us all!” But the mind responds with a quickness, providing hundreds of completely reasonable arguments about why we should keep this to ourselves, why expressing it could disrupt the group and our place within it, why this is not the attention we really want.
Underneath these numbing arguments is the anxiety that comes when the instinct to act meets with inhibition. This anxiety says that if I do the thing I really want to do, everything will change and I don’t know if I’ll be able to manage the changes well. Maybe things will change in a way I like, but I cannot guarantee it. The mind thinks that offering these soothing reasons will be enough to convince our wants and needs to lay down quietly and go back to sleep, but these needs and wants are like insistent young children. They do not understand reason, they only understand their urges.
If we do not allow ourselves to admit to our desire for attention, we find ways to push away and undermine the efforts people do make to recognize and praise us. We get uncomfortable, shy, awkward, or put ourselves down. We make the person attempting to praise us uncomfortable or wrong.
When this want to express and be seen gets repeatedly ignored, they’ll begin to act out in ways that cause more problems than possibly would have happened in the first place. Instead of graciously accepting the attention we receive, we might become resentful and toxic toward those who naturally receive attention and praise. We might gossip, destructively criticize, or undermine those people who seem “too good for themselves.” We might try to get attention by completing negating ourselves, martyring ourselves in the hopes that if we suffer enough someone will finally see it and pull us out. We might cling to our problems and magnify them with the energy that we could have spent creatively.
What wants attention today? What today feels in conflict within the self? What in the mind is limiting the ability to take action? How do our impulsive behaviors undermine the ways we think we want to carry ourselves?