The drug called ‘Approval’


We’ve all been drugged, so we hardly notice that it’s a problem until we overcome the addiction — or should I say, “if” we overcome it. As Anthony De Mello describes it: Imagine giving a young child a taste for heroin. After a short while, their bodies crave the drug to the point of needing its fix usually for an entire lifetime. Now replace the word heroin with these words: approval…acceptance…or any other word to describe a sense of belonging.

This is what we’ve been drugged with — almost every single one of us. Don’t believe me?

The training begins at a young age. If you do something your parents approve of, you get smiles, praise, attention and sometimes even applause. Your mind begins to shape its idea of right and how to get those “good” reactions. At the same time, if you do something “bad,” you get angry looks, fingers pointed at you, and sometimes even a spanking. So, right from the start your brain begins to balance every decision with, “Will they or won’t they approve?”

Now please understand, I know a child needs to learn what and what not to do for its own well-being, and it’s up to each parent to decide their own rules, but before you know it, the child is off to school and they bring with them their addiction for approval.

In fear that we’ll miss out on our fix, most of us look to others for direction. One of my first observations (in the fourth grade) was to notice who got teased and who did the teasing. Those who got teased were the following: nerds, freaks, smelly people, and anyone who had some kind of disability. Those who did the teasing were usually either the angry kids, the popular kids, or the angry/popular kids. Since my biggest fear was to be singled out and ridiculed, I decided to do what seemed obvious: I’d start teasing someone first and hope the angry/popular kids would accept me.

My first target was a kid named Jason. He wore black, was kinda smelly and didn’t seem to have too many friends. My plan was to walk up and challenge him to a fight in which he’d back down and all the popular kids would see me as one of their own. Seemed like a pretty sound plan to me at the time.

We were all in the gym watching some movie about grizzly bears. As soon as it ended we got up to leave and I saw my target still sitting on the floor. I puffed out my chest, walked right up to him and made up a lie, “I heard you wanted to fight, so let’s go, let’s fight right here!” I said it loud enough for the cool kids to hear. He didn’t even hesitate. He got up off the floor and before I could say I was kidding he bumped his chest into mine and shouted, “All right, let’s do this.”

I was trapped. I couldn’t back down now and I didn’t really want to fight the kid. He obviously had nothing to lose. So I did the only thing I could think of, which was to start laughing sarcastically and slowly disappear into the exiting crowd. My face got hot and I felt the embarrassment oozing out of my skin as a few kids chuckled at me.

The addiction to acceptance was so strong in me that I had literally become a monster. I wasn’t completely free after this incident, but I did make friends with Jason the next year. It was good to have a tough guy for a friend.

My advice for the youth of today would be to notice what happens to those who decide their own paths in life and those who don’t. See what becomes of those who transcend the hunger for acceptance versus those who follow every trend. I believe it will plant a seed in their minds, a seed that could one day become the key to their freedom…freedom from society’s drug called “approval.”

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