Monday, March 16, 2009


You know the feeling when people are telling you something, but it's like they're trying to get you to say the opposite? They're fishing for complements by putting themselves down, or saying something polarizing just to see if someone will speak up and argue their point. You know the feeling. It's in all of us. Its called insecurity, and when people start acting it out, that feeling starts to creep in. It starts to marinate in your soul. It starts to grow. Their insecurity starts feeding your own.

How sad is it that sometimes you'll stoop to saying how pathetic you are in order to get a 'pity compliment.' What a cheap, undeserving consolation for a tired old tactic. On the other hand, how sad is it that you need to affirm yourself by making offensive blanket statements in order to prove a point, being argumentative in an attempt to leave some 'burning impression.' Or how about the constant need to draw attention to yourself in conversation by bragging or telling stories that nobody wants to hear. What a cheap legacy. It is said that you can judge a man by his enemies. Acting like this wont make you an enemy of bad people. Unleashing your tongue for shock value doesn't make enemies at all. It just makes people dislike you. You just lose respect.

It is said that you can see a person's true character not only by how well they take criticism, but by how well they accept compliments. I think I am instinctively terrible at both. I don't like compliments, in fact, I prefer never to be told that I'm good at anything. At least not to my face. Secretly, I want people to compliment me behind my back. I want to overhear people telling their friends, just in earshot, that I am great. I want to overhear that they respect me...  but I want it indirectly, so I don't have to accept it. So I'm not exposed. Sometimes I field a compliment with class and humility, but intrinsically, if I don't make a concerted effort, it will make me feel awkward and I'll want to change the subject. 

It's the same with criticism. I hate it. How dare you? That's my natural attitude. It feels like a violation. Like an attack on who I am. Only when it's spoken in the most respectful tone by a dear friend will I ever calmly listen to it, otherwise I get nervous. Something stirs in me and I feel the need to defend myself, to retaliate against it. But secretly, as much as I abhor it, as much as I make out like I'm ignoring it, criticism can control me. Phrases of criticism can play constantly in my mind, and they can have a powerful impact on my actions. Criticism, even from years ago, can randomly pop into my head when I make decisions, and it can influence me to go one way over another.

The fact is, most criticism comes from insecurity. And usually, when its delivered from a place of insecurity in one individual, it can awaken insecurities in the individual receiving it. The insecurity in one breeds insecurity in the other.

You may have heard this. Musicians by nature can be some of the most insecure people in the world. We are defined by the sounds that we make, and thus we are very protective of them. Sometimes it's easy to write your own music off so the criticism doesn't hurt as bad. It's easier to mock your own art than to defend it. But I think thats a front, nobody wants their heart and soul to be picked apart. It's a terrifying process, writing, recording and releasing a record. There are insecurities on the macro level, and on the micro. On the micro level, for example with band dynamics, insecurities are like atoms waiting to be split. They are like tiny little molecules which if treated a certain way can amass major destruction.

If a band member feels discredited, disrespected or overlooked in any way, the lid can blow off, and everyones insecurities can take over. 

Heres how it works: I'll be happily and humbly moving along, confident in myself but also willing to give credit to others, and then suddenly something happens. Someone, out of insecurity, will say something self-righteous. Someone will get offended by something miniscule, and react by reciting their own accomplishments, the things they're good at, why they are more important. Obviously, this is because they feel offended or criticized, and out of an instinct of self- defense, they react by giving a vocal account of their value. As soon as this happens, from deep within me, something starts to cry out. What you've done? It says, What about what I've done? How good you are? What about how good I am? And so on. And if I don't squash it, it can suddenly sweep over me. I can be completely enslaved by my own insecurities.

And so it goes. Somebody criticizes someone, not out of love but out of insecurity. That person reacts with boasting, out of insecurity, and then causes their neighbors to well up with self-righteousness. Insecurity has now swept the room, like some hyper-speed version of the bubonic plague, clouding everyones judgement, infecting everyones motivations, or worse, killing the vibe. All this out of the vocalized insecurity of one person, callously addressing something in an attempt to validate themselves.

Insecurity breeds insecurity.

All anyone wants is to be understood and respected, but in order to receive respect you have to earn it. You have to give it. The selfish nature of our culture tells us that we can have what we want, when we want it, without work. You can get what you need at the touch of a button. That is a lie. Blessings come to those who work for them. It is work to be humble. It is work to give a compliment when all you want is to hear one. It is work to let people speak who may have selfish motivations. It is work to put others first. It is work to keep your own insecurities secure when others are running rampant. It is work to have patience. But if you work on those things, people will respect you. You'll find that you can rise above your own insecurities, because your conscience will be clean. And when it comes to the dropping of these "insecurity bombs," you will be known as a diffuser rather than an igniter. You'll be known as a peacemaker. People will like you. 

Isn't that what we all want? To rise above? To remain calm and collected? To not be dragged around by the insecurities of others? Isn't that the meaning of cool? Sadly our society glorifies hot heads. Turn on Fox News if you don't believe me. You'll see people making blanket statements, 'convinced' they have the answers, attacking their neighbors' principles in order to justify their own beliefs. It's commonplace to take action out of insecurity. What's even more absurd, is that it's masked as strength. You are encouraged to rant, boast, and criticize in order to prove your point. You are encouraged to put your neighbor beneath you. It makes for great TV, but unfortunately it does not get them what they want: Respect. Talking heads are a joke. Does anyone respect them?

The answer is always humility. It is always a quiet, confident patience. The answer is self control. The type Ghandi and Mother Theresa had. The type Jesus had. These things come from a place of wisdom. These are not new thoughts. If you open a Bible to Proverbs, you'll find exactly how to gain respect. The words were written almost three thousand years ago during a time when the nation of Israel was very wealthy, and they couldn't be any more true right now in our postmodern society.

There are leaders and followers. Indians and chiefs. Those who read the news, and those who make the news. Those who are the wind, and those who are tossed by it. I have to constantly remind myself which I am aspiring to be. I have to make sure that insecurity stays secured.


  1. i really liked that Matt! especially the parts about taking and giving compliments. I am a musician too and people tell me that its good. I tell them back "well its not really" but sometimes deep inside i think it is. then someone comes along and tells memy music is absolutely horrible. i get offended inside cuz to a degree i think its not true. but i remain silent and keep a cool head and ask them why and try to be nice about.

    i love what you had to say about respect. and its true: give it and you will recieve it. i see so many people these days being disrespectful. its terrible. people need to be respectful. thank you Matt for all you posts i really enjoy them a lot!

  2. How true.
    People want to be affirmed. Accepted. We want to know we're worth something, when the truth is, we're not. That's clear in the gospels. I can remember when people would compliment my guitar playing, I would quickly respond with, "No, no. I really don't know much." But that was a form of pride. Sometimes we can be so prideful, that we won't even accept a compliment. And our pride is masked with a counterfeit humility. That's the worst kind of pride in my opinion.

    It's amazing how much we think we deserve. This is easily illustrated by my mother, who gets absolutely and outspokenly offended when someone snatches a parking spot she was waiting for. Seems trivial, but is it really?

    So often we think we deserve so much more than we really do. Why would we deserve... anything?

  3. "In order to receive respect, you have to earn it."

    Lately I've been really trying to control my tongue and to refrain from not blurting out unnecessary comments when talking with others, because for as long as I can remember, people have associated me as being the sarcastic one who constantly hurls insults at people. I mostly do it to be funny or out of sarcasm, but sometimes it gets out of hand, and I wonder if I've accidentally really hurt someone with my words. I wonder if people are too scared to confront me because I seem too opinionated, or if they hate me because it seems like I don't give anyone respect, except for myself. Like I'm self-centered. I'm trying to control my tongue now because deep down inside, I know I'm EXTREMELY insecure, and by doing things like being facetious or making nonessential comments, it makes me appear like I'm sure of myself, even when I'm not. In fact, I know I'm probably one of the most insecure people around. But being able to voice my opinions and making comments about things when I don't need to gives me some sense of security and tricks me into believing that I'm a strong, confident person...which is pretty pathetic, now that I've thought about it.

  4. Yeah, sometimes it seems like every word coming from peoples mouths is contrived, artfully designed to help collect compliments to tally next to their name or somehow laced with malice to highlight the shortcomings of others. It's a very sick game. A game, perhaps, that has no winner unless you stop playing and deep down it seems everyone is playing.

  5. I was reading the first paragraph and immediately, some of my "friends" popped into my head. I completely understand and agree with what you stated, about how people continually rant, boast, or criticize in order to seem confident and important. Lately, I've realized that those who I've called my friends for years continually do this. At first, you laugh along; because rants are funny. But after several years of it, it starts to piss me off.
    "Blessings come to those who work for them."
    I love this quote, and I really think you've hit the nail on the head. When you talked about working towards patience, putting others first, and such, that was really what I've been trying to do as I mature. It's the little things, like cleaning up for my parents after dinner to show my respect for them, go a long way in the long run; because they, in turn, respect me.
    Haha, and I'm the same as you, Matt. I get really awkward when complimented, and slightly angry when criticized, but I love knowing the people are saying good things about me. It's comforting : )
    Keep up the good work! I love reading these!

  6. Matt McDonald, as much as you hate accepting compliments, I think you are a genius!! and i am jealous of ur wife lol
    i think u should write a book or somethng, because you are so insightful.

  7. I completely agree with most of what you have said Matt. Though i do have one thought. Being a "psychologist-in-training", so to speak, i've come to realize that sometimes, when people put themselves down, it's not always that they are fishing for compliments. sometimes people's views of themselves are so distorted that they really believe what they say about themselves, and it just seems to other people like they are just fishing for comments, when they really are not even thinking about that, they're thinking 'how could this person think this about me, im not really like that.'
    Just a lil side note, even though it doesn't really fit into what you're saying. But i definetely agree with you, we need to give respect in order to be respected, and we all need to seek humility. If only more people were willing to do so. It seems like in our world, the opposite is happening, which is really just too bad.

  8. Are these blogs hard for you to write, Matt? That's how it is for me when I write soulfully in a journal or the occasional blog.

    It's no picnic to channel emotion into a readable fashion. I wonder if by putting your thoughts into words (like through this blog) you've learned more about yourself, through this challenging, questioning, and observing.

    I've got a penchant for being terribly insecure. In grade school, I'd even go so far as to think that if someone praised my work, that something bad would have to happen to sort of re-calibrate my pride/performance ratio!

    I think you just stirred in me something that I haven't felt in a while. Like little scrubbing bubbles on a hard heart, I'm starting to feel something. I would get this feeling from reading random proverbs that strangely applied to my life. Maybe I should start that up again.

  9. very true...

    i am very bad at shutting up. i am very bad at self-control. i am very good at getting into said rants and getting upset when people DARE ignore me. and i've sort of been learning the hard way, this year in particular, that not only will that get people to loose respect for you, you also continually make a tremendous fool of yourself...

    and i can totally identify with the musician's insecurity... it's hard to know what you mean yourself, after awhile; you don't want to get into that trap, "writing your own music off so the criticism doesn't hurt as bad", or getting boastful. you want a balanced view of yourself, but it's so hard to find that balance. especially when the topic is so sensitive, and you're so vulnerable.

    cs lewis puts it that one's pride should be like building the greatest cathedral in the world and being just as happy about the product as if another man had built it.

    we're all guilty of that pride. we would all rather be known for OUR beautiful cathedrals.

    it is a struggle to be humble. it's a struggle to be quiet. it's a struggle to develop that self-control, that confident patience, to think of others before yourself. it's uncomfortable to see these flaws written across your face.

    but that's the first step to getting better.


  10. Matt this really stood out to me at this time because lately i have been feeling very insecure.