the mattering effect


Everyday interactions at home, school, work, and the community involve mattering. We fear shame, rejection, and ostracism; and we crave recognition. We are not even aware of how much our behavior is dictated by the fear of exclusion and the need for inclusion.
Question: What do the following people have in common?
  • Talking to a colleague about a fantasy, Joseph Molesley, fictional character in Downton Abbey, proclaims: “imagine, Molesley, valet to the Earl of Grantham!”
  • Alicia Garza co-founds Black Lives Matter
  • Muhammad Yunus, social entrepreneur, creates the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to help poor people and goes on to win the Nobel Prize
  • Oprah recalls as a formative experience how her father wanted every guest at their house to feel like they matter
  • Linda Tirado, in her recent book Hand to Mouth describes in great detail the indignities associated with being poor and feeling like she doesn’t matter
Answer: They are all motivated by the need to matter, a universal and pervasive phenomenon.

Some seek to feel valued and add value, like Molesley and Alicia Garza. Others, like Linda Tirado, fear being devalued. Muhammad Yunus and Oprah’s father understood the need to provide people with dignity; they were motivated by the need to add value.

Most human behavior can be explained by the need to either feel valued or add value, the twin engines of mattering. Some behaviors are driven by the pursuit of a positive experience, like feeling valued (Molesley) or adding value (Yunus, Garza); while others are driven by the avoidance of a negative experience, like feeling devalued (Linda).

Cultures that extol personal importance above all else lead to obsessive self-preoccupation. Paradoxically, this incessant interest in oneself results in meaninglessness and pathological attempts to gain praise and recognition, like Donald Trump. Compulsive preoccupation with one’s status and prestige results in alienation from others and the destruction of social bonds. Entitlement comes with a very heavy social price.


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posted by Isaac Prilleltensky