One of the most basic but unrecognized of all human needs is the need for validation--the reassurance from others that we not only exist but have value as human beings. We never outgrow our need for consideration, for courtesy, for friendship, for praise, all of which show us that we are not, as we far too often believe, alone.
A tv program I saw many years ago, in which an experiment was conducted on young monkeys saddens and sickens me to this day. In the experiment, very young monkeys were taken from their mothers and confined in a cage with a wire contraption shaped like an adult monkey. To watch the babies try to cuddle, to get some attention from the artificial monkey was devastating. And when later, a cloth monkey was put into the baby's cage, I actually cried to see its reaction. Yet still, no matter how hard the baby tried, it got no response. That they had to endure this for “the sake of science” is unconscionable. Needless to say, those babies were emotionally crippled for life. The same, it is sad to say, is true of humans. Babies not held, not cradled, not physically touched or talked to lead lonely, dysfunctional lives.
But to one degree or another, even those of us who have not been deprived of normal human interaction still require validation from others. Some of us (myself included, I readily admit) need more than others. The lower the individual's opinion of his/her self-worth, the more important validation from others becomes.
Children are notoriously needy of praise and reassurance. They're trying to find their way in a strange world, constantly confused and frightened, being bombarded by things they do not understand. It is validation from friends and family which makes the journey through life infinitely easier.
This need does not disappear by reaching adulthood, as I...and I suspect you...can attest. As a writer, nothing pleases me more than to hear from a reader who likes what I have written. I become little-boy delighted to think that I have received their validation, and that I may not be quite as bad as I far too often think of myself as being. I tend to react very much like Sally Field did when she said, during her Oscar acceptance speech, "You like me! You really like me!"
Effusive praise and fawning are self-serving, patently false, and off-putting. But like so many things in life, small, spontaneous gestures are beyond measurable value. Think back to the last time you received an unexpected form of validation, and how it made you feel. A smile, a casual compliment, even a simple (but sincere) question costs the giver nothing, but can mean the world to the recipient. Thoughtful words and gestures are the coals which, in the words of the old saying, "warm the cockles of the heart."
Why we so frequently overlook the value of validation to others--even when we're aware of how it makes us feel--is a puzzle. Part of the reason is that we tend to take our friendships or admiration for someone for granted. "Oh, he/she knows how I feel." Well, no, he/she may not know, and even they do, it's nice to hear. Any acknowledgement that you value another person can do wonders and on occasion can be lifesaving.
I began this blog on a heavy note and will end it with another, not to depress you, but to provoke thought. I've told the story before of the young man in San Francisco who determined to commit suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate bridge. He left a note in his apartment describing his feelings of loneliness and lack of worth. He was undecided about going through with the suicide even as he wrote the note, saying "I am now going to walk to the bridge. If even one person smiles at me or acknowledges my existence, I'll come back home."
He did not come home.
The answer to the biblical question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is, to a greater degree than we realize, “Yes.”
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).