Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Mattering Effect

Isaac Prilleltensky, Ora Prilleltensky

Feeling like we matter is one of the most defining features of our humanity. When that feeling is present, we thrive. When it is absent, we feel ignored and helpless. Threats to mattering diminish dignity and can cause destruction, as we have witnessed in school shootings over the last few decades.

Mattering consists of feeling valued and adding value, to ourselves and others. These two experiences are not only complementary, but highly interdependent. Together, they create virtuous or vicious cycles. Marginalization and exclusion engender frustration, alienation, and even aggression, which make it very hard to gain positive regard. Appreciation, on the other hand, leads to self-confidence, mastery, and the desire to make a difference.

The mattering effect refers to the positive or negative consequences of mattering or not mattering. Feeling valued is a precondition for personal health and well-being. Adding value, or making a contribution, is vital for meaning. The negative effects of not mattering, however, can be devastating. Ostracism, exclusion, and rejection are not only psychologically painful, but they can also lead to depression and aggression.

Many of the school shooters who perpetrated atrocities in the last two decades felt ignored, bullied, and marginalized. To regain their dignity, they felt they had to gain attention, at any cost. Negative attention, in their minds, was better than no attention.

Feeling valued derives from four sources: community, relationships, work, and self. We internalize messages we get from others. This is why peers, friends, family, and colleagues need to help us feel like we matter. But mattering is not just a relational issue, but a social one as well. Building a society based on wellness and fairness is crucial.

Just like we need to feel valued, we must add value, to ourselves, others, work, and the community. Self-determination is a primordial need. When that feeling is threatened, we experience helplessness and lack of control. The experience of mattering promotes health and happiness, but it also prevents personal devaluation, relational disconnection, work disengagement, and community disintegration.

These four problems define the crisis of our time; the crisis of not mattering, or mattering only to ourselves. Devaluation, disconnection, disengagement, and disintegration of the social fabric – the four D’s — can be seen everywhere, and their consequences are devastating, for individuals and the community as a whole.

Too little personal worth results in the high prevalence of depression we are currently witnessing around the world. Too much personal worth results in the narcissism epidemic that has been well documented. Disconnection is seen in high levels of isolation, loneliness, relational breakdowns and extramarital affairs. The costs of work disengagement in the United States alone approximate $ 500 billion. Declining social capital and increasing inequality and segregation point to community disintegration. The four D’s stem from deficits or distortions of mattering. We wrote this book to help build relationships, workplaces, and communities where everybody matters, and not just those who enjoy privilege and seek to perpetuate the status quo.

About The Authors

Isaac Prilleltensky

Isaac Prilleltensky is an award-winning academic and former Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami, USA, where he currently serves as Prof...

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Ora Prilleltensky

Ora Prilleltensky is a former assistant clinical professor and the former Director of the major in Human and Social Development at the University of Miami, USA. She is a wheelchair...

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