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Bigger Isn’t (Always) Better

After spending a full month in another country with our children (being together 24/7), my husband and I recently set a goal to schedule more “just the two of us” dates. It’s hard, though. There are always 500 excellent excuses for not paying a sitter $20 an hour just to make sure my kids – who are now old enough to make their own meals and clean themselves – don’t burn the house down.

Still, my husband appreciates goal achievement. He booked the sitter, made the plan, and this past Saturday we enjoyed a 60-minute hot yoga class, followed by fresh oysters on the sundeck of a local ritzy seafood joint. (Well… as ritzy as Missoula gets).

In true form, we managed to remember and use our server’s name several times throughout the meal – something I love to do but still feels creepy sometimes, like I’m an old person doing an very old-fashioned thing that will surely die out within the decade. (At least, this the message I seem to get from the faces of young people at the grocery store).

Then, as I awaited my margarita and a second course of buffalo wings, four gentlemen arrived to occupy the table beside us. At this point, it was late in the afternoon, and only four of the ten outdoor tables were taken – all of us noticeably jarred by this table of blokes.

They were golfers, it was obvious. Not just because of their polo shirts and smartly creased slacks – they were practically shouting about stats and techniques to one another, despite the mere foot or two of space between chairs. As they enjoyed their beer, they moved on to more pressing topics. Two of them hotly debated how many military jets are currently in use, followed by modern drone regulations. Another of them announced what a “stupid thing” his wife said the other day. All of this spoken at several decibels above an appropriate restaurant volume, even for an outdoor deck.

If you’d wanted to avoid hearing the men’s conversation, you couldn’t. The entire energy of the patio shifted when they arrived. Folks at other tables had to speak louder to their companions. Many chose to simply get out their smartphones rather than keep trying. The whole scene was truly intriguing. Did the men themselves notice the amount of social space they were taking up? Did they care? Being Americans, we live in a country that believes in an individual’s right to be as “big” as they please (at least, in theory). But this particular public act of big-ness seemed almost attention-seeking. It’s “the loudest person at the party” syndrome, where a person just seems to want everyone knows how cool they are, how much awesome stuff they have, etc.

We all do it. Whether it’s on social media, in person, in chat rooms, in the office, or elsewhere, we all make ourselves big sometimes, because we want to believe we ARE big (or want others to see us that way). We want to seem important. Worthy of attention. Lovable. Admirable. Respected. Maybe we’re not being audibly loud at every social gathering, but we’re desperately trying to broadcast our worth by what we wear, which causes we push, which fights we pick, all the pretty things we share on the Gram. Businesses do it, too. I get dozens of emails (and texts!) daily from brands trying to become big and important to consumers through lazily crafted aggro-marketing.

We all want, if not to be noticed, at least to feel like there’s space for us here – in our family, our community, our society, in the marketplace. These days, it’s easy to feel like we’re entirely invisible, anonymous, and forgotten when we aren’t working to make ourselves BIG. We forget that basic human nature evolved over centuries to prefer tribal, trust-based connections over loud, attention-seeking behaviors (in fact, those characteristics would get you gnawed by a predator pretty quickly – something I like to remind my daughter when she tantrums).

What we need to ask ourselves is this: Does that sort of big-ness garner the kind of attention we really want? Do we want to be momentarily noticed or do we want real, lasting connection? Does it work to make ourselves big, shiny, and loud among a sea of others doing the exact same? Could it be that these days, making ourselves big/shiny/loud among a sea of others doing the same only gets us more lost amid the shuffle… when what truly stands out in this quick-grab culture is the deeply rooted honesty, authenticity, and compassion that may not get us MORE attention (at least, not all at once) but the RIGHT kind of attention.

When you get BIG, honesty and authenticity seem to find themselves crowded out. Yet, they’re the exact tools we need to find what we’re really seeking: connection with people who get us and want to know us for the long-haul – flaws and all.

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