This month comedian Ricky Gervais set off yet another Hollywoodesque firestorm when he cracked a joke about Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner:
“I’ve changed. Not as much as Bruce Jenner, obviously. Now Caitlyn Jenner, of course. What a year she’s had. She became a role model for trans people everywhere, showing great bravery in breaking down barriers and destroying stereotypes,” he said, before referring to her fatal February 2015 car accident. “She didn’t do a lot for women drivers, but you can’t have everything, can ya?”
It’s a hysterical joke. But, of course, everyone decided to get offended by his “sexism,” to which the notoriously offensive comedian replied, “You have every right to be offended. Just don’t cry when no one cares.”
Plenty of think pieces have already been published regarding our culture’s social media-driven obsession with popular approval. An entire class of online citizenry has been dubbed “Social Justice Warriors” who demand we employ “trigger warnings” before so much as sneezing in 140 characters or more. Yes, yes, those who believe in liberty can all agree that we’ve reached a new height of stupidity thanks to these 21st century emotional Luddites. What we’ve never bothered asking is why. Specifically, why is our culture is so obsessed with public approval?
My mother, a nurse, worked for many years in a nursing home caring for the dying. Regardless of her patients’ relationships with their own families, which ranged from excellent to non-existent, they all shared one common practice. On their deathbeds they would all cry for their mothers. “The soul longs for its creator,” she observed. We are children of a Creator. Much like children constantly seek out the approval of their parents (even well into old age), our souls are hungry for the approval of our God.
Unfortunately, much like disobedient teenagers, when we don’t receive the approval we long for, we rebel in anger. That rebellion usually involves seeking out an alternative source for approval. For teens that usually involves cultivating “cool” in order to find favor with their peers. And as the Ricky Gervais incident points out, most adults are just teenagers who can afford their own WiFi.
Shortly before I came across the Gervais story I was browsing Instagram. Someone posted a meme about the happiness of children involving wanting both parents by their side. One viewer commented, “Some parents might be offended by that.” Why? Because their child might want something they, as the parent, cannot or will not provide? It’s frustrating, isn’t it, when the person whose approval you constantly seek out just won’t give you what you want?
We don’t really need society’s approval. If peer approval mattered so greatly, we wouldn’t be arguing with each other all the time, pinning cause against cause, opinion against opinion. What we need, what our soul longs for, is God’s approval. When we have that, we feel comfortable in our own skin. Until we have that, we get offended by a joke at an awards show. It’s the difference between big and small living. Or, as the dying would have it, it’s the difference between life and death.