Respect and Admiration

We are social creatures. We have evolved to exist in complex interpersonal structures and communities. As such, we are programmed to seek respect and admiration. We crave the approval of those around us. This is more important for some of us than others, and we may not desire social approval from everyone, but we chase respect and admiration. It is hardwired into our species. We can fight this, downplay it, or pretend it is not true, but it is.

This is not an inherently bad thing. It’s true that being overly reliant on external validation creates problems, but the reality is that what other people think of us impacts our happiness. While this reality can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes, it does not necessarily mean it must lead to bad outcomes. Even if we cannot escape the fact that respect and admiration are important to us, we can choose how we channel this need. We might not get to choose the fact that we seek to be respected and admired, but we can choose from whom we desire that respect, and for what reason.

Unfortunately, much of the time we are particularly thoughtful about how we channel this yearning. We often end up seeking respect and admiration from people we do not know or care about. We seek to be respected and admired for things like the square footage of the house we live in, the type of watch we wear, or the model car we drive. Or, we lie to ourselves about the entire enterprise, and tell ourselves falsehoods like, “I just don’t care what other people think.” While this might be true to an extent, the desire for admiration is pretty deeply embedded within us, and is not something any of us can completely escape.

So, rather than fighting human nature, how can we harness this to help us lead happier lives? Instead of denying the fact that we care about other people thinking well of us, how can we tap into that feature of ourselves and let it become a superpower? The answer: we can be thoughtful and deliberate about whose opinions we care about, and we can think carefully about why we would like to be respected and admired.

It is a truism that you can’t please everyone– so trying to do is a fool’s errand. But if we can be clear about whose respect and admiration is important, and from whom respect and admiration is not particularly important. We can develop a filter for praise and for criticism. So, who does it make sense to try and win admiration from?

I would argue that we should seek respect and admiration from those whom we love (and who love us) and those we respect (and respect us). In other words, we should generally care about the respect and admiration of the people we, in turn respect and admire. If we think about the people in our lives, this is a finite number of people who we directly love and care about. There is also a finite number of people who we know and who we deeply respect. If we’ve chosen those people well, we should care about what they think (choosing those people is a topic for another post). Conversely, if there are people who we do not particularly know, love, respect, or admire, why do we care what they think of us?

Next, there are many reasons why someone might respect and admire us. However we are often not thoughtful about choosing the reasons we would like to be respected and admired. So, rather than setting out to be respected and admired for our wisdom, our compassion, our determination, our patience, or our kindness, we respond to any respect or admiration that comes our way.

We might notice that people respect or admire us because we drive a certain car, live in a certain place, have a certain job title, or wear a certain brand of clothing. Because we crave respect and admiration, and we get positive feedback regarding these types of status signifiers, we lean into them. We seek to acquire more, bigger, and better signifiers, so that we can garner more of this admiration we crave. This can cause us to follow a path that leads to places that do not make a lot of sense. We want to live in a big house so that people will be impressed. Really? We want to be respected and admired for the square footage of our residence? Or, we buy cars so that people will admire us for the car we drive. Right. We want to be respected and admired because of our transportation choices?

To be clear, we do not consciously think this way– in fact, that is kind of the point. We do not say to ourselves, “I want to live in a big house so that people will admire me.” Most of us would not say we want to be respected or admired because of our car or house size, and most of us would greatly enjoy the respect and admiration that we might receive when we drive an expensive car or live in a big house. When we are not conscious about these ideas, we make choices that end up not aligning particularly well with our deeply held beliefs or values. We want respect, and we notice we get it when we live at a certain address, so we pursue that. We do not pause to ask, why do I want to be admired and respected? And by whom? Instead, we respond positively to the respect and admiration we receive, and so pursue more of that, whatever that happens to be.

This desire for respect and admiration can also lead to highly performative behavior. We want to be respected and admired for our piety, or generosity, or caring, or wisdom– but we are interested in appearing that way (and garnering the respect and admiration for it), rather than actually being those things. In other words, we chase social validation, and use those characteristics as a method for achieving that validation– instead of embodying those characteristics, and as a consequence receiving social validation for who we are. This typically ends up backfiring spectacularly– nobody likes a hypocrite. Being inauthentic is not attractive. And the height of irony is that the people most likely to recognize our hypocrisy are the people whose respect we most crave.

However, if we decide that we want to be respected and admired for our counsel, our bravery, our kindness, or our generosity, we can set out to pursue and cultivate those things. We can make sure that we embody those qualities. We can align our choices (how we spend our time, our money, our effort, and our energy) with trying to cultivate those things. And then, we can attune ourselves to feedback surrounding those things. We can win the respect and admiration for the characteristics that matter to us, from the people we care about, for the reasons that we would like to be known.

One last thought– it’s much easier to be respected and admired for our generosity if generosity is something that the people surrounding us respect and admire. We can all get trapped in our own echo chambers, where the wrong qualities get amplified. So, if you value generosity (or wisdom, or courage), look for it in other people. Share with other people your respect and admiration for their wonderful qualities. The more we share our admiration for these positive qualities in others, the more they grow. And the more they grow in those around us– the those around us will nurture those qualities in ourselves.

So, be thoughtful about whose respect and admiration you want, and be thoughtful about why you’d like to be respected and admired. Then, live a life that embodies that– the people you care about will notice. Harness the desire to be respected and admired into a force that drives you to to be your best self. Share your respect and admiration for those qualities in those around you. Channel that seeking behavior so that you become someone who is living a life worthy of respect and admiration.


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