Have you ever met someone that, no matter what you do or how hard you try, you can never seem to make them happy? Or do you find yourself always being apologetic because it appears that you just can’t gain the approval and acceptance of certain people? We’ve all been there. When we are children, we naturally want to be “seen” by our parents and we believe that the best way to do this it to make them happy. We all want to be seen as legitimate and special. That’s not the issue. It’s when we believe our actions determine how people see us that trouble looms.
“My actions determine how people see me.”
As a parent, if my boys ever came to me and said,
“Daddy, if we behave and act like good boys, will you love and pay attention to us?”
I would be horrified. The truth is, my children, ages eleven and nine, really don’t contribute anything of practical value to my life. Technically speaking, they drain my resources. And, to be brutally honest, there are days (not often but they happen) I would rather be doing other things than being a parent. This is simply because I am human and humans can be unbelievably selfish. I am no exception.
Now imagine, for some horrific reason, I agreed to the deal. Every day I judged my kids and, based upon their actions, rewarded them with the attention they desired. But since boys will be boys they let me down 50% of the time. Who has the real problem here? The boys or me? What’s sad is that my sons would grow up thinking they are the problem. That they somehow messed up the deal.
The lie here can be found in the social contracts we make with others just like the hypothetical scenario with my kids. For a moment, think about all your relationships. If you were a lawyer, would you be able to see the social contracts you have with each other? Don’t get me wrong. Some social contracts are extremely important. You could say I have a social contract with my spouse. But I consider that more of a “covenant” based upon vows made at deeper levels then any contract.
When describing social contracts, I mean the ones that are just assumed between you and others. There’s no discussion. Just a set of expectations that require specific actions to fulfill these unspoken obligations. Even though I was talking hypothetically, our families are actually a source of social contracts all the time. (If you watch Big Bang Theory, you recognize the hilarious “Room Mate Agreement” which was, as ridiculous as it was, was at least on paper.)
Let me use my life for example. being Korean, there was a social contract, based on Asian culture, that my academic performance reflected upon my parents’ reputation. Later, my career was the same. If I got good grades, my parents looked good and were seen as “good” parents. So they pushed me. You can imagine what happened when I dropped out of three post-secondary institutions and did NOT become a doctor/engineer/lawyer or (insert prestigious job title here). For most of my life, I have felt unseen by my parents because I could not fulfill my part of the Korean/social contract.
I have accepted that my father and mother are not bad people. They were not malicious raising me and were only trying to do their best with the pressures they dealt with. But for years they hurt me deeply (I have since forgiven them which was hard). And I had to come to terms that if they did not want to see me, regardless of my degrees and profession (or lack thereof), then that is their problem and not mine. This goes the same for everybody else in my life that seemed to be holding a social contract over me.
Attitude vs. Action
Do you know what changes the way people really see you? Not your actions. Actions are temporary at best and people are fickle that way. It’s not your actions. It’s your attitude. Attitude determine how others see you because of the way you see yourself. Attitude is like an internal mirror. When your attitude is positive, you reflect that. The opposite of course is true.
Your actions do not determine how people see you. That is a lie. Yes, actions may change the way people appreciate you, but don’t fall for the trap of the social contract. Instead, work on your attitude, especially when it comes to appreciating yourself. You’ll be surprised how people’s perceptions of you change. Try it!