What matters most? Chasing social validation or forming social nets?


What matters more? 

​a) ​What matters most to you…
​b) Or anything else?

Sometimes, people are influenced to focus away from what matters most to them and instead to focus their attention on ​issues that have been selected ​by ​ a particular special interest group. In moderation, it ​might​ be beneficial to individuals for them to focus on ​a few extra ​issues that may give them a long-term advantage eventually. ​Maybe those new issues will matter soon, even if they do not seem to matter much yet.

C​onforming to the interests of a powerful group could ​have a variety of consequences. Conformity could ​be dangerous or beneficial or a mixture of both.Various kinds of non-conformity, especially when openly practiced, can also involve unique risks (or opportunities). We can explore and assess some different alternatives soon.

First, back to the original question, when people organize their lives around what matters most to them, what results are predictable? We could observe that some people seem unusually clear, focused, and committed to producing specific results through their own personal experimentation. They could be extremely interested in precisely measuring the results of the methods that they select. If they do not produce the results that motivate them, then they can openly express their disappointment and then shift right to exploring other methods that might be more effective.

They may seem unusually uninterested in casting blame or justifying themselves. Apparently, they are not focusing on the outcome of other people in general agreeing with their stories or ideas. They will be consistently interested in other people in just two basic ways: which people can most contribute to the selected goal and which people, if any, can most interfere with their own production of satisfactory results?

In contrast, have you ever noticed an instance of people who seem to be competing with each other for social validation? Maybe they argue intensely over an issue that has no long-term personal relevance to any of them. Maybe they even display hysterical outrage that there are other perspectives or perceptions besides their own. They are like infants throwing a tantrum, screaming something like “I totally lack respect for the obvious reality that there are a variety of points of view!”

We could label their experience as distress. How is it that such distress could develop?

If they are attempting to organize their lives around something other than their own core interests and motivations, what would be the predictable results? That can lead to internal conflict, compromise, inefficiency, disorder, chaos, self-sabotage, exhaustion, frustration, and despair. Despair is an intense form of grief. They are despairing or desperate.

In many cases, asking for help would be the expected behavior for someone who is desperate. However, when there is also shame about the desperation, then that can produce an intense distress.

So, what is left for them to do if there is an intense repulsion to asking for help directly, but also intense desperation? They could invent an excuse for other people to offer them help. They may even construct an excuse to ask for help in a specific, limited way (without directly admitting to their desperation and distress). They may practice negligent or risky behavior to create personal breakdowns (medical, financial, social, etc) and then publicize that they have been victimized by whoever they vilify.

​How familiar does that psychological drama sound to you?​ Are you also aware of instances when you experimented with those kinds of social signals for other people to offer you help of some kind? Perhaps you have even said something like this: “Oh no, I really did not want to ask, but since you are offering…. YES! You know, as long as it is not a burden to you???”
​That is way of relating that we could call subservience or “a victim mentality.” There is a background of social anxiety and shame in relation to entire process. Instead of directly admitting to their self-interests or declining to discuss it, they may invest significant amounts of energy in to justifying their patterns of action. They are anxious or in distress about how other people in general will relate to their patterns of action.

​To summarize what we have covered so far, we just reviewed two basic contrasting patterns of how people can relate to what matters most to them. They can respect what matters most or they can neglect what matters most to them (typically, to focus instead on competing for social validation of any kind). Of course, attracting a specific form of social validation might occasionally be the most important outcome to someone. However, for people who have been programmed by special interest groups to neglect their self-interests and agonize over constant social validation, how much frustration would we expect for those people to experience? How much distress would we expect for them to experience? How much shame?

Realistically, there is a broad spectrum between the two extremes of intensely focusing one’s own attention on one’s self-interests and intense concentration on competing with others for social validation. Which extreme would we call “inner peace” and which would we call “distressed hysteria?” Which would we call “being self-aware” and which would we call “being self-conscious?”



Next, we will consider the importance of some different kinds of social nets. By social net, I mean a network of people who are connected to each other in some​ measurable way (even if they people do not recognize or understand the social net).

With the following ideas, we can consider what are the distinct benefits and risks of social nets as well as when they are most beneficial or most dangerous. Further, we will set a clear framework for us to later explore the actual social nets in which we may be operating. For instance, special interest groups may promote the formation of specific kinds of social nets, such as taxpayers. The metaphors below will ease us in to precisely recognizing the purposes of the social programs that special interest groups may use to organize their human resources.

Now, i​magine a group of people climbing a steep mountain slope. If they link themselves together with rope, ​t​hen that will keep them close together​. In fact, even​ if one or two individuals stumbles or slides, then their connection to the rest of the group will promote the safety and well-being  of all of the individuals, r​ight?
So, h​ow many people were in the group that you imagine​d​? Was it less than 10? ​W​as it less than 100? ​W​as it less than 1 billion?
What happens when the size of the group of people who are climbing the mountain gets so large that each individual cannot see how many people are in the group? ​ What if each individual is just one in 1000 or one in 1 million?

There is a unique danger when very large groups of people link themselves together. First, it becomes very difficult to change the momentum of the group.

If the group is moving at a very slow pace, individuals cannot stop easily and they ​also ​cannot go much faster then the rest of the group. If they are all bound together ​to each other ​with ​strong ​ropes, then the range of motion is limited to the length of the rope​ (relative to the position of others in their “social net”)​.

​Individually, they are like a dog on a chain, except that their chain is not fixed to a single location. Their chain is stuck not in the ground, ​b​ut to the other members of their group.
​I​f the whole group is going fast, then the individual must also go fast. If the group is moving faster than the individual can make sense of, then they will experience disorientation and confusion. Eventually, they may close their eyes to their surroundings and surrender to the flow of the main stream.
​S​o far, I have focused on the issue of how many individuals are bound together in the group. I have also mentioned the speed that the group is traveling​. What other issues could make a difference?

Another obvious issue is the ​maximum ​distance between individuals. How far can and individual go without ​completely disconnecting from the social net?

Also, can they disconnect? Do they even think of doing that? Do they know how? Is it a simple latch that everyone regularly uses to disconnect or reconnect, such as every time they stop at a safe place to rest? Or are they trapped for years in a chain gang or by their very own chain to a heavy ball?

​Next, what is the material used for binding the people together? Is it normal rope? If so, how well-made is it? Or, is it a flexible material that can easily stretch and still remain strong? Is it a heavy metal chain, like in a caravan of slaves or prison inmates? Does the material tangle easily? Is there a need to occasionally take time to untangle it?

Also, if there were only two people who linked themselves together on purpose, then they might be able to easily communicate with each other. In contrast, with a huge group, no one individual would be able to directly get the attention of all of the others (not even by screaming or tugging on the rope). It would take many individuals within the group to be able to get the attention of the entire group or herd.

​A final issue that I did not mention yet is the ​weather in which they are climbing the mountain. For instance, ​are there gusts of wind? ​I​s there a storm or clear skies? What is the temperature​?​Are the slopes icy? (Exactly what is the terrain like on the mountain?)
Perhaps we would even dare to raise the question of where are they going and why? For now, be aware that there a variety of forms of social nets in which people are physically connected to each other, such as mountain climbers or chain gains. In some cases, people could only participate after volunteering (and perhaps meeting some requirements, paying some fees, passing some tests, and so on). In other cases, people may be born in to their status within a social net.

In general, the use of social ​ne​ts or networks​ can be very beneficial  (at least to the specific interest groups that promote them)​. However, in particular cases, using ​s​pecific social n​e​ts may be less effective then individual activity ​(​or even ​uniquely ​dangerous​)​. If there are different forms of social n​e​ts that are available, then only one of them will be the most appropriate in a particular case, right?

As an individual becomes a better mountain climber, they may wish to disconnect from a familiar social net and either climb on their own or find a network that is smaller and only ​includes ​climbers that are experienced and cautious​. Maybe someone even senses that the social net to which they are currently connected is unraveling or ​could be spilling​ down the side of the mountain at a fast pace. Sometimes, ​t​here is an urgent priority to disconnect from one or more social ​nets.

What kind of social net is most attractive to you? In order for people to participate in a selective group, which qualifications would be relevant (and how would those qualifications be reviewed)?


​At a later time, we can explore the issue of what social nets may already bind you . We can also explore completely releasing or slightly altering our attachment to specific nets​ or networks. Finally, once free of any tangles that might compromise our ability to focus clearly, we could even explore the issue of what social nets would we like to participate in (by forming new ones, joining old ones that we like just like they are, or reforming ones in which we are already linked).

For instance, we could also consider how we can use measurements of the herding behavior of humans to inform decisions about investing. As a quick example, note the correlation shown in the below chart pertaining to stocks of a group of mining companies in the US. The last 4 years are shown.

sentiment and pricesWhen the red line is low (indicating least optimism) and then begins to rise, that consistently correlates to future increases in price (the blue line). When the red line is high (high optimism) and then falls, then that correlates to the sharpest declines in price immediately thereafter.

In other words, the most popular ideas tend to be consistently wrong among the herds of investors. When optimism is highest, that is when there tends to be the greatest risk of a decline in price. When optimism is least (when prices are the most discounted by the masses), then that tends to be the best opportunity for making a quick, safe profit.


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