We need our own approval, not others’

Jul 19, 2019

One of our deepest needs is the approval of others. The very idea of “success”, whether big or small, is defined in terms of what others think of us. Managed well, seeking and receiving feedback is fundamental to our healthy growth as human beings, but the more power we hand over to others for this approval, the less sure we are about our own reality and the more we will spin off in all directions, never knowing what is right and wrong.

From the time we’re born, we’ve relied on others, starting with our mother, for their approval. Unless we develop our own moral compass, we’ll spend our lives attempting to adjust our actions to fit in with others. This is normal for most people, and it’s the recipe for self-loathing, dissatisfaction, even despair.

There’s always been peer pressure, but the intensity of it these days is incredible, with instant access to countless opinions everywhere we turn and the assumption that the approval of others is our main reference point. So desperate are we for constant approval that it’s almost as if we don’t think we are valid until we receive it, that we’re not our own person until someone else says so.

We can’t stop this trend of obsessive outward-looking, so how to put it into perspective? We do need a reference point, but what is it? The Buddhist view on this is pretty simple. The basis for our lives, our decisions, our actions – and our own very thoughts – should be ethics.

But what is ethics? What makes an action a moral one, a valid one? Do a quick survey and you’ll discover that nobody on this planet – including the animals and the insects – likes being harmed. They all want to be happy and not to suffer. It’s universal. What’s the logical deduction from this? Try to not harm others, which must start with cultivating the wish, the thought, to not harm others. Because everything I do and say brings consequences to others.

This is a natural law, not something that should be believed because someone said so, which is the very core of most religions’ view of ethics, or, indeed, the view of ethics in the materialist world: don’t do this because Mummy said so, don’t do that because the laws of the country say so; do this because I will be approved of. This is just another, albeit revered, form of peer pressure.

How to discover the truth of this natural law, not just have it as a belief? How to internalize it? The very first step is to realize that I don’t want to be harmed: I don’t like being lied to, stolen from, abused, hurt. I want to be happy and don’t want to suffer.

So what can I do to accomplish this? The first step is to realize that whatever I do and say – and, crucially, think – will bring consequences to me. This means that if I want to be happy, if I don’t want to suffer, I first have to reconfigure my own mind and then, in turn, adjust my actions in relation to others.

This is truly living a life, inner and outer, based on the logic of ethics.

With this certainty we will naturally follow our own inner moral compass. When we value our own views and live a life in keeping with them, using ethics as our basis, then it’s easy to live in this world. We’ll be open to the opinions of others but not driven by them. We’ll be more centred, more grounded, more fulfilled. We will have the courage to think and act wisely and with compassion, for our own sake and the sake of others. We will truly be our own person.

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