59. Don’t expect applause.
Now that you have studied all these slogans, don’t expect anyone to congratulate you! In fact it is a good idea to look at how much we keep looking for recognition altogether. It can be embarrassing, but often, as soon as we do anything of note, it is as if we were little children at a playground shouting. “Watch me, mama! Look at me! Look what I can do!” And when whatever we have done is not acknowledged or recognized, how quickly we get puffy and upset.
This slogan gives us a chance to examine our whole relationship to approval and recognition, even fame. The idea is not that recognition in itself is a bad thing, or that we should not encourage or recognize others. It can be inspiring to see the kinds of creative works, intellectual insights, ingenious problem solving, and acts of heroism and kindness that people have accomplished: it can inspire us to do similar things. Especially in a world dominated by bad news and focus on the many problems we face, it is good to applaud people who do good. The problem arises when we expect our actions to be rewarded.
It is surprising how quickly our expectations trigger emotions such as anger, jealousy, righteous indignation, and self-pity. Instead of being able to appreciate what comes our way, we fester about how we didn’t get the praise or recognition we rightfully deserved. And if what we are doing is all about being seen, when we are not seen, the wind goes out of our sails and we founder.
Another problem with the hunt for approval is that it to gain approval you must buy in to the dominant values of the society around you. If what gets approval is getting rich, that is what you strive for; if it is beauty, that is what you obsess about; if it is power over others, that is what you focus on. The desperation for outer rewards goes hand-in-hand with an increasing sense of inner poverty. If you are successful in your quest for recognition, you may be able to ignore what you have given up to achieve it. If you are unsuccessful, you may simply blame the system. But in either case, since you have given over our power to others, you are left empty.
When you notice you are expecting applause, explore what lies behind that expectation. Notice the subtle shift between when you have done something and when you begin to look around you for recognition.