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  • Early on in every life, a child will look up and implicitly ask the world: Am I OK? Do I deserve goodwill and sympathy? Am I on track?

  • And, most commonly, the person who first answers these questions is a parent.

  • Perhaps this parent happens to be generous and sympathetic.

  • They are warm and understanding of the challenges of being alive - in which case the child develops an easy conscience.

  • In the years to comethey appraise themselves with benignancythey don’t continuously have to wonder whether they have a right to exist.  

  • They are comfortably on their own side.

  • But if the parent is more punitivethe picture grows darker: approval is always uncertain, there is a constant fear of being called arrogant or of being upbraided for something one hadn’t thought about

  • What’s tricky is that consciences don’t stay neatly identified with those who kickstarted them.

  • It’s rare to find an adult who actively still wonders what their parents think.  

  • But that isn’t to say that we aren’t wondering about our value in more general terms.

  • It’s just that we may, without noticing, have taken the question somewhere else - and very oftento particularly harsh modern figure of authority: media and social media

  • To this pitiless arena, the self-doubting person now directs all their fears of unworthiness and panicked desire for reassurance to a system set up to reward sadism and malice.

  • They constantly raise their phones and implicitly askDo I deserve to exist? Am I OK? Am I beautiful or respectable enough

  • And, because social media is built on the troubles of the individual soulthe verdict is never a reliable yes.

  • One is never done with cycles of fear and reassurance-seeking.  

  • Every time their spirits sink (which is often), the self-doubting sufferer picks up their phone and begs to know whether they have permission to go on

  • If this might be us, we should grow curious aboutand jealous of, people who are free.

  • They are so because someone long ago settled the question of what they were worth and the answer has seemed solid ever since.

  • Social media is a roar in the next valley, not a mob in their own mind

  • Learning from these calm souls won’t just involve deleting a few apps,  

  • we will have to go further upstream, back to the baby self, whose alarmed inquiries we must quiet once and for all with ample doses of soothing, and till-now absent kindness.

Early on in every life, a child will look up and implicitly ask the world: Am I OK? Do I deserve goodwill and sympathy? Am I on track?

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