Each soul on this planet has a simple desire at its core… to have its existence validated. It seems simple enough, the desire to be seen and heard, yet it holds tremendous power. To be acknowledged brings a sense of meaning while the absence of acknowledgment can leave one feeling invisible and cast aside. When I speak of acknowledgement here, I am mainly speaking about the basic, yet deeply profound, soul-to-soul and heart-to-heart human connection form of acknowledgement.
A humble smile, a nod, a door held when your arms are full… any of these unassuming actions can cause a ripple of positive energy that can have a meaningful and far-reaching impact that cannot be imagined in the moment. A “seemingly unimportant decision” can change the lives, or at least the day, of the person or people on the receiving end of this kindness.
While acknowledgement is often beautiful in its simplicity, it frequently defines, at least in part, how we come to see ourselves and the world around us. This means that acknowledgement, or a lack-there-of, carries with it a great deal of weight within the human psyche. Questions such as, “How and where do I fit within my community?” “Why am I so different from the rest of my family?” “Why do I feel invisible in a crowd?” all stem from our deep-seated, albeit often subconscious, desire to feel seen, heard, and most of all… understood. This craving to be recognized, when left unchecked, can lead to an increased ego-centric personality. On the contrary, if this desire is not filled, it can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, reliance on outward approval for validation, and a lack of self-worth. It is important to realize that, while being acknowledged by others feels good, we must also cultivate the ability to acknowledge and validate our own selves and accomplishments along the way. Doing so will lead to a healthy ego-development versus narcissism or self-abnegation.
Life offers many opportunities to both give and receive acknowledgement. We may be acknowledged for our talents, our contributions to the community, our “feats of daring”, our academic and/or professional accomplishments, as well as for our acts of creation and destruction, to name a few. Some individuals go beyond the typical need for acknowledgment and begin to crave it, like an addict caves their favorite drug. They become “hooked” on accolades and who seem to need the spotlight in order to feel “worthy,” or even alive. On the flipside of that coin are those who wish to remain secluded, and away from prying eyes. These are the people who need validation and acknowledgement the most but who have received the message of “you are not worthy” from the culture at large. These are the homeless men, women, and children we see on the streets; the prostitutes and addicts who are searching for something to fill the void in their hearts and souls; the people labeled “criminal” who are locked up and forgotten; these are the poor, the mentally ill, the otherwise “disabled” individuals who wish for nothing more than to be seen and not judged. These are two extremes, two distant branches, yet they are from the same tree. Even at these opposing poles the root is the same… “Do you see me?”
We can witness the incredible beauty and transformative power of acknowledgment with a nod of our head and a brief moment of eye contact with a homeless person we pass on the street, instead of dodging them and looking away; or, when you make a really big deal over a child’s art project or silly dance… “Wow! That is spectacular. You are so creative! I love it!” The message they receive is, “I am seen. I am heard. My presence in this world means something.”
What better gift could we give to someone than to let them know, even for a moment, that they matter and they are not alone?