With approval or not

2 hands, one is thumbs up, one is thumbs down

Whose approval matters most to you? 

That may sound like a strange question. Seemingly, the answer should be someone really close to you. After all, they’re around the most.

Yet, it’s quite obvious that we seek approval in many varied places. Some of them odder and more unlikely than others.

Approval is a funny thing. 

The dictionary says:

approval — noun

1 the action of officially agreeing to something or accepting something as satisfactory: the road plans have been given approval | they have delayed the launch to await project approvals.

• the belief that someone or something is good or acceptable: step-parents need to win a child’s approval.

We’re all capable of making decisions and do so many times a day. In small and big things. Yet, sometimes we are unable to move forward, because we’re not sure others approve. It may be a specific person whose approbation we seek. At other times it’s a much more vague “they” who wouldn’t give thumbs up.

Candidates running for office carefully study polls purporting to show how they rank with potential voters. Significant policy decisions get made based on real or perceived approval from that nebulous electorate. While there is the occasional statesman or stateswoman, who will make a policy decision purely on what is best for all involved, it’s much more common to see such calls made on the basis of how this or that important group may approve (or not approve).

“Do not trust to the cheering, for those very persons would shout as much if you and I were going to be hanged.”

Oliver Cromwell, attributed, The New Speaker’s Treasury of Wit and Wisdom

For some people, approval from others becomes extremely important. We talk about fragile egos that need a constant stream of approval. If it’s not forthcoming, the person will do whatever they think needed to elicit approval.

To be sure, a healthy amount of approval helps us do our best and accomplish more than we thought we could. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s definitely a problem when we must have approval at all cost. And nothing negative.

Sincere or not

Approval can be sincere. As in truly declaring something good and beneficial. Encouraging a person working on a project of value.

But approval can also be quite insincere. I want something from you, so I will voice my approval of what you’re doing (regardless of what I think of it), so you’ll help me get what I want. Because all I really care about is getting what I want. Sadly, some of us are so starved for encouragement that even that kind of empty approval sounds good.

“You will never gain anyone’s approval by begging for it. When you stand confident in your own worth, respect follows.”

Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

Whose approval do we seek and whose approval really matters

Approval can come from many sources:

Immediate family — ideally these are the people who know us best and their approval should matter the most. Just because they are closest to us and going to be there for the long haul.

Extended family — like immediate family, but they don’t know us quite as well. And may not feel the need to always be my cheerleader.

Friends — This one is tougher. Good friends are worth their weight in gold. I’m talking about the friend who will tell me the truth, even when it hurts. That friend’s approval means a whole lot and will go far to spur us on to greater things. There are also fair-weather friends who have an agenda behind the friendship, making their approval or disapproval less about reality and more about what that is going to do for their status.

Co-workers and business associates — now we’re definitely in intrigue land. Because there are promotions and deals. Everyone needs to get ahead in the game and each person is pretty well going to put their career ahead of everyone else. If approving of you fits in, great. If not, tough cookies.

Strangers — Should gaining the approval of total strangers even matter? But it does. For some of us a whole lot. Oddly, we may even care more about praise from perfect strangers than from people who know us. Maybe because we think there’s no “angle” involved when it’s a stranger. Or because we know that someone closer to us wouldn’t be so ready to pronounce their approbation, because what I did wasn’t really that great.

“It is not the being seen of men that is wrong, but doing these things for the purpose of being seen of men. The problem with the hypocrite is his motivation. He does not want to be holy; he only wants to seem to be holy. He is more concerned with his reputation for righteousness than about actually becoming righteous. The approbation of men matters more to him than the approval of God.”


2 dangers, 2 extremes

Danger of relying too much on approval from others

In one corner is always seeking approval from others before taking action. So I’m really controlled by what others think (who may or may not care much at all). Taken to an extreme, it’s valuing friends, coworkers and family solely based on if they approve of me and what I do. It’s the person who only wants to hear “Yes” and never a “No”. 

If someone doesn’t approve, then I ditch them and go looking for someone else who will approve. Today, with more ways than ever to connect with others, finding that approval (no matter how wrong it actually is) is easier than ever. Just tweet. Or troll Facebook for a while. You’ll find approval, no matter how wrong.

If all I care about is that others approve, then sooner or later decisions I make will actually hurt me (and others). They certainly won’t be the best ones for my life.

“An amazing thing happens when you stop seeking approval and validation: You find it. People are naturally drawn like magnets to those who know who they are and cannot be shaken!”

Many Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

Danger of not caring about others’ approval 

In the other corner is the rugged individualist. The lonesome hero, riding into the sunset. Does what he does and doesn’t ask anyone’s permission. Because Individualist. Cue Frankie singing “I did it my way.” American culture certainly celebrates the myth of that rugged independence.

There are times when we need to forge ahead without the approval of others. But to do so all the time, or most of the time, is a dangerous course indeed. There’s a reason for getting approval from others, in that it can keep us from making clearly stupid decisions. Even protect us from ourselves at times. We all need that.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:3

Finding balance

The person who generally has a healthy amount of approval from those around that matter (and  knows who they are), is most able to stand on their own when there’s a need to move forward without waiting for approval from others. Put another way: Regularly seeking good advice prepares us for tough decisions we have to make on our own.

Example: When I was thinking about going to college in the US, some folks voiced disapproval. Why would I go that far away for school? Weren’t the schools in Sweden good enough? Someone who claimed to know, even insisted that I would hate Iowa. “Just farmland. No trees.” There were plenty of nay-sayers. If all I cared about was approval from as many people as possible, I would have stayed home, sticking with my factory job. 

Fortunately, I had approval and encouragement from my parents (which mattered, since I’d be moving far away from home) and from friends in the US, who knew me and knew what college in the US was like and encouraged me to step out into this new world.

“True friends face in the same direction, toward common projects, interests, goals.”

C.S. Lewis

The God connection

There is one more approval that matters. For me as a Christian, it does matter if what I’m about to embark on has God’s approval. Not talking mysticism and hearing voices. But is what I’m about to do in line with Biblical principles and the guidelines there for how we should live? 

Because I am not the final measure of value in this world. There is something much bigger than me.

Some people don’t have that “problem”: They see themselves as the end all, be all. The final arbiter. You’d then think that they really don’t need anyone’s approval. Yet, the person in that position is often one who most fervently seeks approval of people who shouldn’t even matter. Because at the end of the day, there’s always a fear of missing out on something. Or not being significant.

“Fear of man is the enemy of the fear of the Lord. The fear of man pushes us to perform for man’s approval rather than according to God’s directives.”

Paul Chappell

Truth is, we all need approval, to some degree. 

“I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”

Charles Schwab

The key is to know how and where to seek approval, so that it really does build us up and encourage us to do our best. And doesn’t get us into trouble.

To get approval from those who really care about me and my life. Those who truly know me and who can tell what’s best for me. Because not everything I or you consider doing deserves approval.