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Connections that help us feel valued and add value impact our health, happiness, love, work, and society. The consequences of mattering or not mattering can be seen everywhere, at every age. The lack of mattering often results in depression, suicide, and even aggression and xenophobia. People who suffer from depression, workers who feel alienated, and citizens whose identity is threatened feel devalued. They feel that their lives, work, and identity do not matter. While some respond to this situation by internalizing feelings of despondence, others overcompensate by nurturing feelings of superiority and joining nationalistic movements headed by authoritarian leaders. Feeling devalued or overvalued, in relationships, at work, and in the world, is one of the most serious threats facing us. They derive from a failure to foster mattering. They results can be disastrous for individuals and society as a whole. When disaffected masses feel that their identity is devalued in society, they respond in one of two ways. They either turn toward nationalism and extremism, as in the case of xenophobic movements, or they protest to defend their rights.
This chapter introduces an evidence-based model for personal change called BET I CAN. BET I CAN stands for Behaviors, Emotions, Thoughts, Interactions, Context, Awareness, and Next steps. When it comes to mattering, you can easily see that it involves all the BET I CAN levers. For instance, we can add value by doing something (behaviors), relating to people in certain ways (interactions), and shaping the community where we live (context). In turn, we can feel valued through emotions or thoughts. Our plans to add value, or feel valued, as the case may be, always require awareness of our situation and next steps. Each letter of the BET I CAN model encompassed two skills. This is what we teach in the chapter: Behaviors (Set a Goal and Create a Positive Habits), Emotions (Cultivate Positive Emotions and Manage Negative Emotions), Thoughts (Challenge Negative Assumptions and Write a New Story), Interactions (Connect and Communicate), Context (Read the Cues and Change the Cues), Awareness (Know Yourself and Know the Issue), and Next Steps (Make a Plan and Make it Stick).
Unconditional positive regard by parents paves the way to unconditional self-regard, a felt sense that one is worthy and acceptable even when making mistakes, experiencing failure, or behaving in less than desirable ways. People with high self-esteem perceive themselves favorably. They generally like themselves and believe they are competent and capable of handling life’s challenges. Conversely, those with low self-esteem regard themselves as incapable, unlikable, or even unworthy. Low self-esteem is related to depression and a number of psychosomatic ailments such as loss of appetite, insomnia, nervousness, and headaches. On the whole, people with low self-esteem do not feel valued by themselves or by others and doubt their ability to add value. Self-acceptance and self-esteem are thus critical for mattering. Self-esteem has important implications for a host of life domains. Those high in self-esteem experience more positive emotions and are significantly happier than those with low self-esteem. In fact, high self-esteem is considered one of the most dominant predictors of happiness.
To matter in relationships is to feel valued and to add value. Strong bonds enable us to feel loved, appreciated, recognized, and affirmed. This is the first part of the equation. The second part is helping one another add value to the relationship and the world. In this chapter we focus on the bonds we have with people close to us: family, friends, and fellow workers. If you want to experience mattering in a relationship it is essential to express, and not just think, positive things about your loved ones. If you want to matter in the inner circle you don’t have to avoid conflict – you just have to know how to handle it. Healthy relationships are characterized by effective management of conflict, not by the avoidance of it, as it is all but inevitable. Many people stay away from conflict because they think that it is the end of the world. They close up, shut down, and avoid addressing the conflict, leaving neither party satisfied. But well-managed conflict can lead to intrapersonal and interpersonal growth and to a stronger relational bond.
A foundational tenet of a healthy abundant community is that all of us have gifts – of the head, the heart, or the hand. For gifts to have meaning, they must be exchanged. When we create spaces for capacities and vulnerabilities to be shared, we give life to a sense of belonging. We bring our full person to the table. Associations afford people an opportunity to exchange strengths and weaknesses, sorrow and joy, resilience and fallibility. Friendship and trust emerge in communities where people balance association with similar and different people. Robert Putnam from Harvard captured this dual need in the distinction between bonding and bridging social capital. The former refers to association with like-minded people. The latter to connections with people from other backgrounds. Communities that balance bridging with bonding are healthier and stronger. They achieve better outcomes in terms of population health, education, and safety. Discrimination and inequality erode mattering in the community. Inequality of worth can be created by a number of social identifiers: money, race, class, education, disability, gender orientation, looks, language or ethnic origin.
When the work you do includes more than yourself, you can make contributions through productive or relational value. Productive value refers to contributions you make to create a good or a service. You may have insights about how to sell a product to a new market, how to deliver a service more efficiently, or how to perform a dance more graciously. These ideas and actions enhance the productive value of a task. This is all about delivering great goods and services efficiently and accomplishing tasks with the highest quality. Relational value is about fostering a climate of support and growth among your peers and employees. You add relational value when you behave compassionately, when you encourage your peers to learn, and when you create a psychologically safe place. The more relational value you create in the workplace, the higher the likelihood to generate productive value. Fear, the opposite of psychological safety, imposes a tax on productivity and most certainly kills creativity. We must nurture the capacity to add productive and relational value at the same time. We must encourage the acquisition of technical as well as relational skills.
Mattering, through civic participation, makes people, organizations, neighborhoods, and nations healthier and happier. But not all forms of civic participation come without a struggle. Social improvement often requires conflict. Participation in civic affairs is a necessary condition, but not all forms of engagement lead to transformative results. Some actually result in the fortification of the status quo, which is inimical to millions of people. This is why it’s important to make a distinction between amelioration and transformation. The former refers to minor social reforms aimed at soothing the pain created by a system of injustice. The latter refers to fundamental changes in the system of injustice itself. Depending on social and political dynamics, the pain associated with feeling devalued can lead to social progress or decay. When civil rights activists organized to pass legislation to advance the well-being of Blacks, and when people with disabilities advocated for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, social progress was achieved. But when certain groups in power feel threatened, instead of creating bridges of belonging they erect walls of exclusion.
There are numerous ways to add value and make a contribution. We can offer gifts of the heart, the head, and the hand. We can provide emotional support, ideas, or tangible help. When it comes to adding value to our own lives, we can increase our happiness, study new things, find meaning in life, and develop physically and spiritually. There are really countless ways to make our life more exciting, goal-oriented, virtuous, and passionate, and it is up to each one of us to discover what actions will make that happen. Needless to say, our opportunities are influenced by the environment we live in. Some social ecologies are more supportive than others, but the aspiration to add value remains, regardless of the particular context. The needs to make a difference, to master the environment, and to express ourselves are well ingrained in all of us. We yearn to be in control of our destiny and to learn new skills. These needs are expressions of self-determination and the pursuit of meaning.
Teaming is about creating the conditions that will enable people to feel valued at work. Teaming encompasses our behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and interactions. These four elements of teaming create a particular context. What we do, feel, and think can foster a culture of inclusion or exclusion, safety or fear. The consequences of our actions, feelings, and exchanges have short- and long-term repercussions for the health of employees and the organization as a whole. This chapter deals with the signs, significance, sources, and strategies related to feeling valued at work. It is about creating a psychological climate of safety and acceptance where people can be honest and human. These conditions are propitious for creativity, productivity, and well-being. Teaming meets the needs for belonging, dignity, and growth, and it requires effort on everyone’s part: boss, employee, peers. It is a collective responsibility. In high-performing teams, members add value and pay attention to the needs of their peers.