Of the three forms of attachment, the attachment to recognition may be the one we experience the most from the youngest age. From the time we first became aware of ourselves as separate individuals, when we were still just toddlers, we hoped that other people would notice us and give us attention. “Hey, look at me!” we cried to our parents and family members as we went through the process of interacting with and learning about the world.
As we grew older, our socialization process only intensified this tendency. As we neared school age, we realized that a lot of things in our world are labeled “bad and good,” “better than and worse than,” “worthy and unworthy.” We discovered that people make these comparisons about coffee brands, clothing labels, and car models, and we found out that people believe that’s true about people, too. We quickly buy into the idea that some people, like movie stars, millionaires, and sports champions, get lots of positive attention, while others are ignored, outcast, or trapped in lives of poverty.
The Drive for Specialness
Especially in our celebrity-driven culture, for most people it has become imperative to stand out above and beyond the masses. Movie stars, politicians, and rap stars are treated like royalty, while everyone else are mere serfs. A chosen few are treated as important and valuable, while the rest are ignored and undervalued.
When we observe this as children, our natural desire is to stand out among our peers. While our cultures encourage this, no one must teach us to do this; it is built into our “brain operating system” because we are human. We start by trying to gain praise from our parents and teachers with skills we learn and grades we earn. Then we move on to trying to impress our peers with toys we own or the clothes we wear.
The biggest problem with this drive for attention is that it can never really be satisfied. Most of us will not experience being the valedictorian or the sports star, and our achievements, even if excellent, will always seem “less than” to some extent. Even if we do achieve those things, the experience of it will be fleeting as the next star rises to the top and we are forgotten.
Confidence vs. Arrogance
This drive to specialness has drastic effect on our self-esteem. Those who perceive themselves as failures—people who have no specialness—will automatically have low self-esteem and will become blind to their own potential. Everyone else will be caught in constant competition with others to rise to the top. Instead of loving and supporting others, our hearts close and we instead look for reasons why we rank above them and they rank below.This situation leads to a culture wherein people are likely to be narcissistic, displaying a kind of arrogance meant to project the message “I am better than you.” Even many “nice” and “polite” people engage in this to some degree, reacting emotionally if their claim to specialness—perhaps their physical beauty, intelligence, or social status—is called into question. Underneath it all, however, so many people are insecure and suffer great doubts about their own value. They have arrogance and pride, but they have no true confidence.
The key to true confidence is to grow beyond comparisons, the obsession with “better” and “worse.” Of course, our brains always can and will make such comparisons, but we must recognize that there is no absolute truth in those comparisons. They are just information in the brain. Thinking, “I am better than her” or “he is less than me” is just a fleeting opinion formed in the mind. No matter how our culture may support the idea that some people are worth more and some are worth less, there is no truth in it. Those thoughts are fine for finding the best person for a job or for finding the winner of the spelling bee, but they have no bearing on the actual value of an individual. Your value and the value of any individual can only lie in the soul since that is the only lasting, genuine part of who you are. Everything else—the trophies, the fame, the degrees earned—will eventually fade away.
As I mentioned earlier, this attachment to recognition is completely natural to the human brain; it is hardwired almost as an instinct. But, it is causing great misery here on earth. Recognizing the True Self, the soul, of every human being is the key to growing up and growing beyond this natural attachment. In other words, it is the key to upgrading our “brain operating system.” If we can do this, we can finally become secure in the unique role we have come to play here on this planet, and we can freely support and nurture the highest potential of others, as well.