You say to-may-toes, I say to-mah-toes, who's right?

Minds are fundamentally subjective: we all have opinions of what is but no objective knowledge of what is.  After all, to define reality objectively, we would have to be outside of it.  But we aren’t.  To define reality objectively, we would also have to be outside of our subjective minds.  But we aren’t.

Subjectivity isn’t objectivity, and an opinion isn’t a fact.

To understand the arbitrary nature of any evaluation, we have to understand the concept of value. 

Value (or worth) is perceived utility.  Anything that has value has some perceived usefulness.  But what is trash to one is livelihood to another (think flea markets).  Thus, value is an opinion of usefulness that is specific to a given mind.

Just like beauty, value is in the mind’s eye of the beholder.  But if value is nothing more than an opinion, if value is fundamentally subjective, then it is also beyond objective proof.  As an opinion, value isn’t a fact.  Since value isn’t fact, it cannot prove anything factual or objective.  What is valuable to one mind is trash to another.  To some, a Beanie Baby is a collector’s item; to another, it’s a something to be thrown away. To some, a thought of approval from somebody else is a gold coin; to others, somebody’s approval is Monopoly money.

To appraise something as perfect or good or valuable as opposed to imperfect, bad, or worthless is to express a subjective opinion.  Nothing more.  You and I look at the same picture:  you like it, I don’t.  Who’s right, you or I?  Both and neither.  Your subjective opinion is no more objective than my subjective opinion.  Why?  Because, by definition, subjectivity isn’t objectivity.  You say to-may-toes, I say to-mah-toes.  You say po-tay-toes, and I say po-tah-toes.  You say perfect.  I say imperfect.  Who’s right?  Values—just like tastes (and pronunciations)—differ.

Recognize: neither approval nor disapproval proves anything objective.

And that’s the paradox of approval seeking: our very attempt to prove our worth and value means that we feel that our worth and value can be proven.  After all, why would we try to prove the value of something if we didn’t feel it was valuable in the first place?  So here we are: in self-doubt yet convinced enough of our worth and value to try to prove it.  And, we are so convinced of our value that we are willing to go to the ends of human ambition to prove it.

adapted from Present Perfect

Related:

Proclamation of Psychological Independence

 


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    Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011

APA Reference
Somov, P. (2011). Paradox of Approval Seeking. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindful-living/2011/02/paradox-of-approval-seeking/

 

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Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. is the author of The Lotus Effect, Present Perfect, The Smoke-Free Smoke Break, and Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time.


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