You Matter: Unlocking the Transformational Force of Human Significance
I want you to imagine a world where you move through life unnoticed, where your presence goes unacknowledged, and your experiences go unnoticed and unappreciated. You find yourself isolated, with no one seeking your advice, offering emotional support, or valuing your opinions. In essence, you become invisible, leaving no lasting impact on the lives of those around you. This pervasive sense of loneliness permeates even in the company of family, at your workplace, or within your community.
Now, let’s cast aside this unsettling image and focus on a different reality — one where you are deeply connected to people in meaningful ways. They not only recognize your presence but celebrate your achievements, offer a listening ear when you face challenges, and provide constructive criticism when needed. You’ve earned their trust in important matters, and your actions have brought about positive changes in their lives. In simple terms, you matter.
Which of these two scenarios would you prefer? Undoubtedly, the latter, where you matter to everyone around you, holds greater appeal. This inherent need to matter is a fundamental aspect of our human existence.
To matter means being important and valued by others. This significance is underscored by phrases like “You Matter,” which serves as the tagline for the National Suicide Prevention hotline, and “Black Lives Matter,” a rallying cry against the systemic racism faced by many black Americans. Indeed, the core of our existence as humans is deeply intertwined with our ability to matter.
Let’s delve into the profound concept of mattering — what it entails, why it is essential, the factors that influence it, and practical ways to enhance our ability to matter, both as individuals and as part of larger communities.
I’ll begin by exploring a compelling real-life story that vividly illustrates the transformative power of mattering: the tale of high school principal Linda Cliatt-Wayman, who harnessed the power of mattering to rescue a failing school.
Linda Cliatt-Wayman: Transforming a Failing School through the Power of Mattering
November 1, 2002, was Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s first day as a school principal. She was assigned to a school in an area plagued by crime and deep poverty. Her first day was marked by a massive fight among girls, setting the tone for the challenging environment she was about to confront.
Determined to bring change, Cliatt-Wayman called the students into the auditorium, intending to establish clear expectations. She began addressing them when suddenly, a girl named Ashley, way in the back of the auditorium, stood up and interrupted her with the words, “Miss, why do you keep calling this a school? This is not a school.”
Ashley’s words struck a chord, prompting Cliatt-Wayman to realize the profound issues that had been overlooked for years.
A decade later (now 2012), Cliatt-Wayman arrived at Strawberry Mansion High School, labeled “persistently dangerous” with a history of revolving principals. The physical state of the school mirrored the students’ emotional neglect — locked doors, dim halls, broken furniture, and classrooms that felt abandoned. Both students and teachers felt defeated, lacking a sense of significance and purpose.
Cliatt-Wayman embarked on a radical transformation, focusing on every aspect of the school’s environment. Three guiding principles shaped her approach. First, she emphasized personal responsibility, instilling the belief that leadership was key to change. Second, she adopted a “So what? Now what?” which implied that when faced with an issue, she would address it without giving room to any excuses.
Most importantly, Cliatt-Wayman made it a daily ritual to tell her students, “If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will.” This simple yet powerful affirmation became a cornerstone of the transformation. Students, burdened by social, emotional, and economic challenges, responded positively. Cliatt-Wayman’s unconditional love and belief in their potential fostered an environment where each student felt they mattered.
She sang happy birthday songs to students, recognizing the significance of making them feel special on their birthdays. Clear expectations were set, coupled with reminders of their potential, always concluding with the heartfelt assurance, “If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will.”
In her TED Talk, Cliatt-Wayman emphasized that her real secret to keeping Strawberry Mansion moving forward was her unwavering love and belief in her students’ possibilities. Every student mattered to her, and this transformative approach empowered them to respond positively and believe in their potential.
Cliatt-Wayman’s story underscores the profound impact of showing people they matter, especially in challenging environments where the need for significance is paramount.
What Does Mattering Entail?
Mattering, a concept initially formulated by sociologist Morris Rosenberg (Rosenberg & McCullough, 1981), is intricately woven into the fabric of our social connections, encompassing feelings of being valued, appreciated, recognized, and respected.
According to Gordon Flett, author of The Psychology of Mattering: Understanding the Human Need to Be Significant (2018), and his colleagues at York University in Ontario, mattering consists of four core components that reinforce our sense of significance:
1. Attention: The experience of being seen and acknowledged by those around you.
2. Importance: Feeling that people genuinely care about your well-being and are invested in your personal growth.
3. Dependence: Being someone to whom others turn for support, guidance, and resources.
4. Appreciation: Feeling valued, acknowledged, and respected by the individuals in your life.
Similarly, Brown University sociologist Gregory Elliott describes mattering as encompassing Awareness, Importance, and Reliance, which essentially mirror Flett’s components.
In essence, mattering involves capturing the attention of others, perceiving oneself as important to them, feeling appreciation for one’s true self, and being relied upon for various needs. However, this is only one side of the mattering equation.
Distinguishing Mattering from Other Self-Concepts
While mattering shares commonalities with various self-concepts, it possesses distinct characteristics that set it apart. Here’s how mattering differs from other self-concepts:
- Mattering is more than Self-Identity: While mattering is closely tied to personal identity, it goes further by emphasizing the importance of how one’s identity is recognized and affirmed by others. It involves the social validation of one’s authentic self, contributing to a sense of belonging.
- It is not Just Social Comparison: Unlike social comparison, which involves evaluating oneself relative to others, mattering focuses on the quality of interpersonal connections and the perception of being valued, independent of comparisons.
- It is beyond Self-Actualization: While self-actualization pertains to realizing one’s full potential, mattering emphasizes the relational aspect of this realization, encompassing an individual’s impact on others and the value of their contributions within social contexts.
- It is differentiated from Social Support: While social support is crucial, mattering is not solely about receiving support. It involves feeling seen, acknowledged, and valued, encompassing a broader spectrum of relational dynamics beyond the provision of assistance.
- It is differentiated from Self-Esteem/Self-Worth: Mattering surpasses self-esteem, which centers on an individual’s overall evaluation of their worth. It involves not only personal validation but also the perception of being valued and recognized by others, emphasizing the relational facet of significance.
Understanding these nuances sheds light on the distinct nature of mattering within the realm of human psychology and interpersonal relationships.
The Socio-structural Factors Shaping the Power of Mattering
Mattering, the perception of one’s significance and relevance in society, is not solely determined by individual feelings and beliefs. It is intricately connected to socio-structural factors — elements of our social and cultural environment that mold our understanding of our role in the world. Here, we delve into the key socio-structural factors influencing mattering:
Social Identity: Mattering perception often hinges on one’s identification with social groups based on shared characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic status. For instance, an individual might feel a strong sense of belonging within their ethnic or cultural community but marginalized in broader society due to their minority status.
Media and Representation: Media portrayal, or its absence, of various groups in movies, TV, advertising, and news can reinforce or challenge societal norms and stereotypes. Authentic and positive representations in media can bolster mattering, while underrepresentation or negative portrayals can undermine it.
Educational Systems: Access to quality education, equitable funding, and inclusive curricula can empower individuals to feel valued and significant. Conversely, educational disparities and discrimination can lead to feelings of not mattering, particularly among marginalized groups.
Economic Systems: Economic structures, including income inequality and job opportunities, significantly impact mattering. Economic insecurity, job instability, or limited access to resources may foster feelings of insignificance in a society that values financial success.
Legal and Political Systems: Equal legal protection, representation in government, and policies promoting social justice can enhance mattering for all citizens. Conversely, systemic discrimination and disenfranchisement can breed a deep sense of not mattering among marginalized groups.
Cultural Norms and Beliefs: Societies prioritizing collectivism, community, and social cohesion tend to foster a greater sense of mattering among their members. In contrast, cultures emphasizing individualism and competition may inadvertently contribute to isolation and feelings of not mattering.
In summary, mattering emerges from a complex interplay between individual emotions and socio-structural factors. Recognizing and addressing these factors is crucial for building a more inclusive and equitable society where everyone can feel valued, recognized, and significant.
The Innate Need for Mattering and Its Consequences When Lacking
The innate need for mattering is intimately tied to emotional well-being and psychological fulfillment. When individuals perceive that they matter to those around them, it instills a profound sense of purpose and belonging. Consequently, the recognition of one’s significance forms a foundational pillar for self-esteem, resilience, and the ability to navigate life’s challenges.
In a comprehensive 2009 study on mattering, social psychologist Gregory Elliot of Brown University explored the connection between adolescents’ sense of significance within their families and two distinct categories of issues: anti-social behaviors and self-destructive tendencies. This extensive study, encompassing over 2000 teenagers, underscored the pivotal role of mattering and shed light on the risks associated with its absence.
Furthermore, the study revealed that a lack of mattering can contribute to self-destructive behavior. Notably, adolescents who experienced a sense of mattering within their families exhibited significantly lower propensities for binge drinking, illicit drug use, and planning or attempting suicide.
Numerous other studies have shown that in the absence of mattering, individuals may wrestle with feelings of isolation, disconnection, and a lack of purpose. Mattering, therefore, transcends mere attention-seeking; it represents a deep-seated need to be woven into the fabric of relationships and societal structures. Its significance extends beyond personal connections to encompass contributing to the collective well-being of communities and societies.
7 Ways to Enable Mattering for Everyone
In a prior conversation with renowned journalist and author Jennifer Wallace, she illuminated a societal imbalance that places excessive emphasis on material and career achievements, often overshadowing the intrinsic value of caring relationships and neighborly kindness. Wallace passionately conveyed that the true essence of mattering transcends individual success, investing in relationships, embracing vulnerability, and fostering interdependence.
At its core, mattering unfolds as a rich tapestry of belonging, extending far beyond acts of empathy and charity. As Prof. Isaac Prilleltensky asserted at the 2019 World Happiness Summit, mattering encompasses dismantling societal injustices and advocating for fundamental human rights, including universal healthcare, quality housing, accessible education, and a living wage for all.
Thus, a delicate equilibrium across the four dimensions of mattering — personal, relational, communal, and societal — proves paramount. An unwavering focus on any single facet may inadvertently yield unintended consequences. Genuine significance and lasting happiness emerge from harmonizing the self with others, where being valued by others harmoniously aligns with adding value to others. An essential facet of this equation is self-care, for without self-nurturance, the kindness and affection of others lose their potency.
Here’s a comprehensive guide to empowering mattering for all:
1. Cultivate Inclusive Spaces: Nourish environments that embrace diversity, cherishing each individual’s uniqueness. By fostering discrimination-free and judgment-free spaces, we create arenas where everyone feels a profound sense of belonging and significance.
2. Active Listening and Validation: Champion active listening in interpersonal exchanges. Providing a platform for unhindered self-expression, devoid of judgment, nurtures the invaluable feeling of being heard and validated — crucial to mattering.
3. Equal Opportunities for All: Confront systemic obstacles and advocate for equitable access to opportunities, resources, and services. By dismantling inequities, we empower everyone, regardless of background or circumstance, to chase their dreams and believe in the importance of their contributions.
4. Recognize and Celebrate Contributions: Actively acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of each individual. Whether in professional spheres or community endeavors, recognizing the impact of one’s efforts fortifies their sense of significance and motivates continued engagement.
5. Promote Acts of Kindness and Inclusion: Cultivate kindness and inclusion. Modest gestures, like checking in on others, offering a smile, or inviting them into conversations, wield immense power in fostering a positive and inclusive milieu — validating the idea that every individual matters.
6. Emphasize Collective Empowerment: Foster a culture of collective empowerment. By illuminating the interdependence of individuals and underscoring the cumulative influence of collaborative endeavors, we unite everyone under a shared purpose, bolstering their shared sense of mattering.
7. Educate on Mental Health and Well-being: Elevate awareness of mental health and overall well-being. By destigmatizing mental health challenges and offering readily accessible support resources, we ensure individuals feel genuinely cared for, amplifying their overarching sense of mattering.
Incorporating these guiding principles into our societal frameworks, policies, and daily interactions catalyzes the cultivation of an inclusive and supportive environment — one where every soul perceives their own significance. Our unwavering dedication to universal mattering enriches individual well-being and forges a global community bound by compassion and interconnectedness.
Conclusion: Illuminating the Power of Mattering: Forging a Path to Collective Prosperity
Mattering stands as an elemental human yearning, an indivisible thread intricately woven into the tapestry of our shared human experience. As we grasp the profound impact of mattering on our lives, we sow the seeds of a brighter tomorrow, where every soul finds purpose, every voice is heard, and every life authentically matters.
In a world where the significance of each soul is honored, whether within the embrace of our families, the crucible of our workplaces, the intimacy of our relationships, the tapestry of our communities, or the grand canvas of our global society, we collectively ascend to the pinnacles of prosperity. The resonance of mattering extends far beyond the individual, echoing as a transformative ripple capable of reshaping entire communities and societies. When individuals are genuinely convinced that they matter, they metamorphose into catalysts for benevolence, champions of social accountability, and champions of active civic involvement. This shared pursuit paves a thoroughfare to a society where mattering isn’t merely a lofty aspiration but a tangible, lived actuality for all.
By embracing the profound significance of mattering in our lives, we erect the bedrock upon which a world is constructed — where every individual contributes to a luminous, more interwoven tomorrow — a world in which every existence resonates with authentic significance.
If you want to continue to build on how you instill mattering into your life, please refer to my upcoming book, Passion Struck: 12 Powerful Principles to Unlock Your Purpose and Unleash Your Most Intentional Life, which is now available for pre-order.
I also wrote about Shameflammation, which is essential for helping you learn how to identify and conquer your inner demons.
Thank you for taking the time to engage with my perspectives. May your journey be filled with joy, growth, and fulfillment.
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