Yesterday afternoon, I tried to have a conversation with our daughter about chasing likes and followings.
She knows I have a blog, though fortunately hasn’t found it yet — I will likely obliterate it the day that happens. So she posed me a question: “How many readers do you have?”
I promptly replied: “About three. Me, myself and I.” Jokes aside, that’s probably not far off the truth. It’s quiet in these backwaters.
Our children are growing up in a culture in which they are taught to chase validation from others: likes, subscribers, followers, retweets. Our worth is to be measured by how many subscribers we have, or how many friends.
I tried to put it to her that this is not what we should be aspiring to. I tried to convince her that she should strive to produce her best seeking the pleasure only of the One. We don’t harvest relationships. Life wasn’t granted for the mere purpose of accumulating stuff.
Of course, at nearly fourteen, she was having none of it. What could her grumpy dad possibly know, when all around her friends are pursuing those little hits of dopamine?
There’s no point me arguing that all these apps are engineered to keep us hooked, in order to induct us into a lifetime of servitude to big tech, perpetually upgrading to the latest and greatest gadget, though there was nothing wrong with the last one. There’s no point, because all they see is that MrBeast has more subscribers than the entire population of Turkey.
My generation set this circus in motion. Through our thirties, we believed the dream, reconnecting with long-lost friends, swelling our circles of influence transnationally. Perhaps we’re the worst afflicted, making up for our dreary youth by posting check-ins of significant events to boost our self-esteem.
For our children’s generation, this will be all they ever know. This is the world. This is how society has been configured. Note the gamification of learning: no longer do they scribble their French vocabulary down on a piece of paper; now the app pings with approval each time they recall a sentence correctly. No bad thing, if it helps them get ahead.
I’m not convinced that chasing likes and followings is good for the soul, however. Sure, in the good times, the approval of the multitudes will lift our spirits, elevating our sense of self-worth. But in the end, it is all about feeding our ego, contrary to the teachings of virtually every spiritual path, wherein the ego is there to be tamed.
In a conversation with my beloved early this morning, I learned that we have both been mulling over the exact same unspoken thoughts. Chasing the approval of others will ultimately lead us away from what is truly important, blinding us to our true reality.
Why else did wise sages, gurus and prophets call us away to something higher? Why did they warn us of attachment to the world? There is nothing new about these obsessions, but modern technology amplifies them. So much harder now to seek the approval of the One, that pursuit obscured by the urges of the intoxicated ego.
Our children need to learn a better way. Let them be creative, by all means. Let them strive to do their best in life. Let them aim to achieve great things. But let them learn too to do so with pure intentions, seeking neither fame nor the approval of others. Let them learn that the best reward is reserved for those who refuse to walk on the earth seeking an exalted status.
No, we all need to learn a better way: to master our ego, not to let our ego be our master. I address this reminder to myself first and foremost. If you must seek the approval of another, let it be the approval of the One.