My Experiments In Truth: Striving For Internet Recognition

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Susan Smalley, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA

This week I asked myself why I blog weekly on the Huffington Post. With the millions of voices on the blogosphere, why add to it? For attention? For recognition? My answer is both yes and no. On the yes side, the weekly column fulfills a part of my own striving to be recognized, to be 'someone,' a striving that is very ingrained in the western world where the individual is so prized. On the no side, I actually blog for what I learn about myself through the experience. I've already learned that 1) I can live with criticism or praise or even with being ignored and not be sucked into thinking worse or better of myself; 2) I can commit to writing on a weekly basis and do it, even though some weeks the product is less than what I might hope for with more time or thought behind it.

It is a challenging experiment in truth to investigate the origin of your own thoughts, feelings and actions to determine if a striving for recognition, for attention, is at their roots. For example, do you argue a point, hang on to a position, push someone out of your way in career or social life because of wanting to be recognized, to be seen as more important? It sounds petty, but if we look honestly and deeply, my guess is there are elements of that in much of what we do.

This is not to say that success in a profession or excellence in a job, or excelling in a sport--a commitment toward excellence is the same sort of striving. There is a subtle difference that is hard to put into words, but by a crude analogy, it is the difference between becoming a doctor because of a love of medicine versus becoming a doctor because your parents said you should.

I notice a lot of striving for recognition in the world today. We spend a lot of much time paying attention to and discussing those that are famous, that fame appears to be big part of our value system - a much sought after goal without much consideration to how one gets there. I think YouTube is a wonderful balancing tool that has arisen to counter this striving, this starving for attention that seems pervasive today. With YouTube, a single individual's fame via media is no longer few and far between. Over time, the awe of fame will likely diminish as the Internet continues to highlight the commonality of our individuality.

Even among contemplative teachers, where self-transcendence is part of the experience, there is often a striving for recognition. I have seen a kind of competition of sorts over what method is best (e.g. yoga, tai chi, TM, mindfulness, etc) and 'who is the best teacher' or taken to the extreme even 'who is more aware.' The striving for recognition becomes imbedded in judgments about how much one meditates, the length of meditation, the time spent in retreat, the type of practice and how one learned it.

No one is completely spared from the experience of striving for recognition; yet, becoming aware of it and attending to it on more and more subtle levels is one way to minimize its influence on your life. I have found that thoughts, feelings, and actions that arise without such striving are always ones most associated with my own sense of well-being and happiness. Applying a discerning look at your mind, investigating it with curiosity and honesty to detect striving for recognition is, in and of itself, a perfect experiment for discovery.