By Shawn Coyne | Published: March 4, 2011
There’s an old joke.
An extended family lives in a valley. One night a torrential rain comes over the mountain. Flash flooding…the works. The mother and children prepare to seek shelter. Dad decides to ride it out and do his best to save the family home. Mom and the kids try to get Grandma into the car, but she won’t budge. She just repeats “The Lord will provide…the Lord will provide.”
The storm worsens. The water rises past the first floor and Dad and Grandma make their way to the roof. A man in a canoe comes along and offers assistance. Dad gets in the canoe and leans back to help Grandma on board, but she won’t move. The canoe lurches forward. Dad screams that he’ll be back… Grandma continues to chant “The Lord will provide…”
Dad comes back an hour later in a speedboat. The water is half way up the second floor. Grandma still won’t leave… “The Lord will provide…”
Another hour passes and Dad has commandeered a helicopter. Grandma is clinging to the chimney. He lowers a rope ladder to her but she refuses to grab and climb it. The last thing Dad hears is “The Lord will provide,” as Grandma slips into the deluge.
Grandma makes her way to the Pearly Gates. Grim faced and saddened, she asks Saint Peter why the Lord failed her.
“Look lady…we sent a canoe, a speed boat and a helicopter. Whaddya want from us!”
We’ve all been that old lady. We want the spotlight, to be seen by others as special, indispensible, worthy even of supernatural intervention. In these times first party validation—self-validation—just doesn’t cut it. The old “I’d never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member,” riff. And as Dean Martin would say, ‘You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.’
The more powerful the admirer, the better, right?
Longing for validation is built into our genes. That makes sense. The longing keeps us connected. A little boy wants his mom to watch him jump into a pool and smile when he comes back up for air. A teenager wants her Dad to come to her High School play and cry in the third act, if not the very first moment she walks onto the stage. Having someone who cares about us, actively telling us, and showing us that they think we are a unique and irreplaceable bit of truth and beauty in the universe is mucho importante.
The sweet inner voice that we begin to hear in our youth telling us the exact thing is validated by that kind of love—from family, friends, spouses etc.
I see this deep need as longing for “second party validation.” And the more we get of it, the more the sweet inner voice overrides the petty voice in our heads.
Back to the joke. The drama of the joke is that Grandma has gobs of second party validation. Her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren plead with her to leave the house. She’s valued and loved…even her crazy choice to stay is respected.
Why isn’t it that enough for her? What’s driving her to throw all of that love and assistance away?
Here is where the desire for what I think of as “third party validation” comes into play. Grandma wants the ultimate third party—her idea of God—to validate her. I think this obsession to the point of disregarding self and loved ones in order to get third party validation, is a very malignant form of what Steven Pressfield calls resistance.
Like the Terminator, as Steve wrote in The War of Art, resistance is a real shape-shifter. When our kind inner voice grows, resistance redoubles its efforts and carpet bombs our consciousness with negative and petty, chatter.
When the little boy becomes an Olympic caliber diver, resistance keeps him from thinking “if mom appreciates my arm stand back double somersault tuck and I have given it everything I have, then the rest will take care of itself…” Instead, resistance has him craving third party validation and his thinking follows. “Why is mom sitting in the front row with that stupid smile on her face when I’ve got to perform for the judges?”
We want to play Carnegie Hall. We want a billion dollars. We want to be on TV, in the movies, in the paper, on the blogs, we want R-E-S-P-E-C-T from everyone we’ve ever met and everyone we’ve never known. These are the internal third party validation bombs of resistance at play.
The lust for third party validation destroys more art, beauty, and truth every day, hour, minute, and second than any of us can even imagine. How many times have you sloughed off a compliment from a friend or spouse about your work?
What do they know? Let’s just see what The Wall Street Journal has to say about my work before we break out the high fives…
Have you ever had a meeting with someone or some company you want to impress and led with statements like “I sold a bazillion gizmos last year and was named salesman of the year” or “and then I wrote/sold/bought/won/argued etc…” instead of “I have this idea… I read this article the other day and it made me think about…What if we tried this…What do you think?”
Remember your friend who lent you his van to pick up the fliers for the play that you produced that “only” twenty people came to? That was the play that taught you about the importance of working with a lighting designer who actually cared about the work instead of the one who won an Obie for his last job. Seven plays later, you were broke and the lighting designer you gave a break on your third “failed” play took you in for a week. He got you a job getting coffee for a bunch of television writers, who asked your opinion about a plot twist… Marvel and embrace this kind of validation from people who think you’ve got potential and lend you a hand to help you realize it.
Don’t ignore them in a wild chase to get a rave from The New York Times Book Review.
Back to the joke.
Grandma has thrown away all of the earthy gifts from those who care about her the most. She wants nothing less than her vision of the creator of the universe to descend from the heavens, pluck her from danger, and anoint her unique and special. [You can substitute whatever third party validation you’d like to get—The Supreme Court, The Pro Bowlers Tour, The Nobel Committee, The Scarsdale PTA etc.]
Grandma drowns waiting for the ultimate third party validation instead of accepting and appreciating the Godly help already at hand.
Get in the canoe. Ride shotgun on the speedboat. Grab the rope.