One of the key things I believe that humans generally seek in this life is attention. Attention from yourself and attention from others. Why? Because in order to be happy in this life, something must give you reason to be happy. Now this is not to say that you have to rely solely on others for you own happiness. The reason for it can come from yourself. For example, you might go for a nice walk to get exercise to make you feel good. And why do you want to feel good? Because you want to be happy. This was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s thinking on the matter on why we do the things we do. We do things for the sole purpose to be happy.
Because most of us have so little control over how things get handled in this world, we often rely on others to get to our goals, which we believe will make us happy. And when people do so because they see us doing our part in obtaining a goal, we call it being rewarded (whether you deserve it or not). Most goals we have in life we often have to rely on the trust and help of other people to get to them. This is essentially why we want and need the attention of others. In order for someone to reward you with something, regardless of how small or how big the reward is, they have to give you attention. That’s just in the definition of reward.
All right, enough with the general philosophy on attention and rewards and let me explain how it applies to my own life, especially as an autistic individual. A lot of my goals and possible rewards that only other people can give me have gone unmet because of my difficulty of establishing relationships with other people. I’ve already given several examples of this in my blog, for example, the desire to have romance in my life (in posts Figuring Out the Dating Game Parts 1 and 2) and the goal to be part of a thought-provoking conversation (in post Speedy Gonzo).
I crave for attention. Because my autism makes me feel so different from other people, the world’s design is even less suited to me. As a result I fell less in control and have to rely on others more. I’m not saying this is rational thinking. After all, what our rational minds tell us and what we feel can be two different things. I’m also not saying I go around as some kind of annoying attention-seeker. Quite often I’m just the opposite. Even though I do try to get attention every now and then, for instance by bragging about accomplishments, I think I’m overall a modest person. I do like attention, but most of the time I fear reaching out.
Because of the difficulty of establishing relationships, attention and social interaction I treat as luxuries in my life. Let me give an analogy to how I feel. To someone who is very wealthy, finding a loony in the street doesn’t mean that much. It’ll add very little to their wealth. Yet a homeless person who’s actually living on the street who stumbles upon a loony may practically jump for joy. I
have the same attitude when it comes to social interaction. Even if someone briefly greets me while we’re walking past each other, I feel like I’ve won a treasure most of the time and don’t take it for granted. It’s also what attracts me to Facebook. You can put up a status and see how many ‘likes’ you get or if you get any comments for it. Because of my modest character, however, I usually feel like I’m overindulging myself if I make more than three status updates per week (not counting the updates I put in for this blog). I usually check my stats for this very blog several times a day.
And I don’t expect the internet in general to help with my social life. Yes, MSN messenger and Facebook, as well as other sites, make it fun to interact with someone, especially if you can’t meet face-to-face and I’ll continue to use such services, but overall it’s the face-to-face interactions that help. All the technology that’s being developed now in the twenty-first century can give the impression of having a lot of potential ‘short-cuts’ to interacting with others. From internet chat-rooms to pornographic sites, it seems the internet has a lot to offer. But this is just an illusion and quite unfortunately it can make a lot of vulnerable lonely people think it’s a good solution to their problems (luckily I’m not one of them and I’m good at limiting the time I spend on such activities). That’s not to say that what the internet offers in terms of these things is bad, but they certainly shouldn’t be seen as solutions to loneliness. The internet has both its good and bad points (without it, this blog wouldn’t exist) and I’ll elaborate on what I think of technology’s impact on how we socialise in a future post.
Despite my desire for attention from others, however, it’s certainly not how I run my life and a lot of the choices I made could’ve been made better if I was really aiming for more attention and to get better rewards from others. For example, I took a lot of tough courses in university, while I see others taking easier courses so that they can have a higher grade average. And then there’s my goal of becoming a professor, which certainly isn’t the highest paying job I could get with the skills and talents I have. As I experience more and more of this fabulous journey called life, however, I’m caring less and less of what kinds of ‘rewards’ people do give me. I’m being myself and I have rarely done anything simply for the sake of fitting in or getting any ‘rewards’ from others. I know when I’ve done a good job at something, regardless of how much ‘reward’ I get from others. The personal self-satisfaction is enough. It’s a rare, but valuable attitude to have. Do you have this attitude?