Significance… Or Insignificance?

Significance? What is it? The leading dictionary definition is “importance” or “of meaning or consequence,” but the problem beyond that is how we as individuals, cultures, and societies define what is important, meaningful or consequential.

What is actually more important to the individual [and human society and culture] is the concept of insignificance, the realization that one may have no import, no meaning, and no consequence to others, to society, to the world or the universe. Study after study has shown that human beings are motivated far more by loss aversion than by hope of or desire for gain. We don’t like losing things, anything, especially a sense of self-worth.

That is why human beings will go to almost any lengths at times to avoid being insignificant or allowing themselves to consider that they are insignificant… and why individuals who believe themselves to be insignificant have a far higher rate of suicide and attempted suicide. It’s also likely why suicide rates are higher in societies with greater levels of income inequality, since people on the bottom not only perceive that their significance is less, but also see that their chances of increasing their significance are low.

Virtually every human society has a creation story or myth involving the creation of human beings by a greater power. Such myths convey a greater significance to the human race and to individuals, as does the concept of a personal god, than the actual possibility that we are merely a product of evolutionary development, and the sometimes violent reaction against the concept of evolution may well lie in the need for significance on both a personal and societal level.

In general, there are two ways to achieve comparatively greater personal significance, first by positive deeds, including accumulation of wealth, power, or knowledge or, second, by reducing the significance of others. Those who cannot achieve greater significance, or as much significance as they believe they deserve, in a positive way often attack anyone who they perceive is not granting them adequate respect – or significance.

Cultural signs of the fear of insignificance – and of the fear that others will attack one’s significance – are also everywhere. One current sign is the anger among certain minorities when someone disrespects, or “disses,” another. Authors get upset by bad reviews , especially those that minimize their work or talent. Negative tweets often generate violent reactions.

Politicians worried about their professional and personal significant take umbrage at negative news coverage, often attacking the media, or claiming that what is reported that is critical of them is “fake news” – especially when such reports are true, or largely so.

There’s an old saying about actions speaking louder than words, and it might not be a bad idea to consider how significant we – and those who lead us – might be by actions, or lack of action, rather than by all the words trumpeting greatness and impugning those who don’t agree.

2 thoughts on “Significance… Or Insignificance?”

  1. Tom says:

    As I age everything is becoming less and less significant: in particular what others think they think.

    So why do I even bother to take note of anything? Curiosity and analysis, and, if possible, followed by some form of rationalization!

  2. M. Kilian says:

    I think that you have described the effect value systems have on society well. People want power to attain the things they value highly, and to distance themselves from things they set a low value to.

    I quite like the quote from Fight Club for something that goes beyond just material possessions in my opinion: “The things you own end up owning you.”

    After all, what human being wants even the last year of their life to go to waste, let alone the time it took to culminate a family, or career etc?

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