It’s a funny thing. Everyone has an inbuilt desire for recognition, yet that desire plays out in such different ways.
But let’s backtrack a minute. I just made a statement about a universal human need to be recognized. Is this actually true? Does everyone crave recognition? After all, we all know individuals who prefer to hide their light under a bushel. Individuals who live contentedly in their own daled amos, with no desire in the world to become public personas.
Some people love to be at the center of things. To see and be seen, to interact and interconnect. To be recognized, in short, as an important member of the group. Others do not share this craving, at least not to the same extent. But even the introverts among us who prefer to stay home and read a book rather than attend a party are not immune to the desire for recognition, or its cousin, attention. They just want it from fewer people and in more private ways.
Even the most confirmed homebody wants the recognition of her family. The most reclusive author wants people to read what she has to say. The talmid chacham who sits quietly in a corner of the bais medrash learning by himself day and night wants his thoughts and ideas to be accepted by other talmidei chachamim. Rare is the individual who is truly content living unseen and unheard. In fact, I wonder if such an individual exists at all…
So, I have to agree with myself: the desire for recognition is more-or-less universal. Otherwise, we’d all be living on our own desert islands, ignoring each other and needing nothing from one another at all. But that’s not how life works. Man is a social creature, and social creatures need society.
As a member of your society, you have a natural desire to take your place in it and to have your contribution recognized. That place may be quietly confined to a few intimates, or it may be vast and tumultuous. But it’s your place. The place where you are seen.
Under the Radar
The different styles are blatant when it comes to giving tzedakah. Take your typical Jewish philanthropist. Many of our institutions are plastered with plaques proclaiming the generosity of this donor or that one. Certain families have become synonymous with giving and transformed into household names. But there are others who absolutely refuse public recognition in terms of plaques, speeches or memorials. They want to give, but they want to do so with a low profile.
And then there are the “secret givers” who want no profile at all. We are taught that giving tzedakah anonymously is a virtue because it helps spare the charity’s recipient embarrassment, and I can certainly see the sense in that. But there’s another side to giving which is also important. The side that shows the other person how much you care.
By letting the recipient of your largesse know that you gave him help in his hour of need, you provide more than material aid. You also give him the warm feeling of knowing that he is loved. More—that he is loved, specifically, by you. Anonymity can’t do that.
We don’t have to be renowned philanthropists to face this choice. Each time you join a meal rotation for a neighbor or shul member, you have the option of sending over the meal anonymously or sending it along with your personal warm wishes. The trick is to know who you’re dealing with, and which style would make the recipient most comfortable.
If giving openly will embarrass them, then by all means keep your giving under the radar. If, however, your gift will foster closeness and warmth, why not let them know that you thought about them, cared about them, and took the trouble to try to help ease their plight? It seems to me that only good can come of that.
I’ve never really understood people who write under assumed names when there is no cogent reason to do so.
Once upon a time, women authors were not taken as seriously as their male counterparts. As a result, you’ve got Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the name George Eliot, Amantine Dupin, better known as the French novelist George Sand, and the Bronte Sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who published their first book of poetry under the male names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Sometimes an author, such an Agatha Cristie or J.K. Rowling, writes some books under a different name because she wants to strike out into a different genre than the one she’s most commonly associated with. Others may opt for a pseudonym because of the personal or highly sensitive nature of what they’re writing about.
But some choose to write under a pen name without any tangible reason at all… except, perhaps, to dissociate themselves from possible failure. That’s the kind of writer I don’t understand.
Just as the words we speak reveal who we are and help us connect to those around us, so does the written word. If you have a view of the world, a message to impart, a sense of beauty or wonder to share, why not do so in your own name? This is me. I have something to say to you. Why disguise yourself when you can offer the greatest gift of all: that of handing over a precious chunk of yourself into the reader’s safekeeping? To reveal your thoughts through the written word, and then cover up by hiding your name, seems rather counterproductive.
Perhaps putting one’s name on the fruits of one’s labor feels somehow immodest, as if the owner of that accomplishment is shouting, “Look at me!” I get that. But there’s a fine line between being an inveterate attention seeker and simply hoping for basic human recognition for our achievements. The average person can desire acknowledgement for his labors without being accused of pursuing any extraordinary or improper attention. Those who do crave an inordinate amount of recognition usually have powerful emotional needs that are straining to be met.
I once met a little girl who was in foster care, and who had a knack for turning all eyes toward her with her winning ways. The child was clearly trying to win the love she felt she was missing in her life, and desperate for the security of being accepted. She tried to get it by attracting attention everywhere she went.
Others, with an endless craving to be admired, unconsciously turn every encounter into a stage in which she stands in the spotlight. When you have a bottomless need for something, you’re probably going to overdo things in an effort to get it. Including attracting attention, if that’s what it takes.
In contrast, wanting a healthy amount of attention and recognition is, I think, simply a part of the human condition. Each time I pour my thoughts onto paper, either in fictional form or more directly as I do here, I am offering a piece of myself to my readers. I am saying, “This is me… reaching out to you. See me. Listen to what I have to say.” As I, in turn, am willing and eager to see and listen to you. That’s how we get to know each other.
In concealing our names, we are essentially concealing ourselves. It’s like wearing a mask to a costume party. On such an occasion, the mask provides an agreeable air of mystery. But our lives are not costume parties. More than anything, we need to be real if we want to connect.
Why hide the faces behind the words or deeds, when those words or deeds have the beautiful ability to bring people closer?