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As social creatures, we naturally want to find a group of people we can connect with to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of fighting for the others’ approval. How can we escape this harmful mindset?
I’ve learned that if I’m not careful and this impulse goes unchecked, I can easily become sucked into people-pleasing. Whenever I become too focused on gaining others’ approval, I begin to forget to put effort into being the most selfless, kind, and loving person I can be. My goals become very scattered because everyone has different ideas of who I should be, and those ideas sometimes come from problematic cultural norms.
It’s not that I completely drop any attempts to be a good person, but I become less focused on seeking God’s approval, so my intentions wander. I might be kind to others because I hope that they will reassure me that I am a good person rather than merely being kind for the sake of service. Generous acts easily become markers of a transactional relationship. I have seen friends struggle with simply giving without making a mental note of what the other person owes them in return.
No single person’s acceptance should be the marker of another’s worth. In my own journey to move away from seeking others’ approval, I have turned to spiritual texts to find guidance as to where I should focus my aims.
He indeed is acceptable, O my God, who hath set his face towards Thee, and he is truly deprived who hath been careless of the remembrance of Thee in Thy days.
When we love people for their own sake, the Baha’i writings say that our love is “originated by the accidental conditions of life” and that it might change, giving way to negative feelings. Accidental conditions of life might look like loving someone for the common family traditions you share or the things you enjoy doing for fun together. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and his designated successor, suggested that we cultivate deep love based on the love of God, instead. In a talk he gave in Chicago in 1912, he said:
Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy.
This passage reminds me to base my love for people on the divine qualities I see within them. Paying attention to the way that a person functions outside of whether they like or dislike me, detaching from the idea that I need others to like me, and reassuring my value as a person are all tools that have been helpful in redirecting my attention from likeability to seeing the divine within others.
It’s not the approval of others I should be seeking — I should be seeking God’s. Reminding myself of this pushes me out of the mindset of treating others lovingly for irrelevant reasons and reorients me to treat them well for God’s sake. When I am less focused on gaining some form of approval from others I am more able to see and love myself for who I am. I am also more able to see and love others for who they are in their entirety.