Saturday, May 19, 2012

what people may think

photo by amanda pratt
If any person has been given any advice, it is this: "You shouldn't care what people think of you." In my younger years, I was grateful for this logic as it trained me, many times, in the art of Schoolyard Survival. Anytime I was picked on, bullied, made fun of or teased, I would repeat to myself (internally, of course), "I do not care what you think of me." It may have been a lie I told myself, but it helped all the same. It helped me hide; it helped me pretend my way out.

In recent months, though, I have begun to question the validity of this oft' repeated adage. Only ever given in times of hardship, or as an offering of false pride, this advice is shared as a way to help us reject the things we do not want to hear, regardless of validity. It also teaches avoidance instead of confrontation. Accepted wisdom suggests that we should care when the words and thoughts of others are good: complements are to be cherished, framed and hung, and applied with vigor to aching self esteems or overinflated confidences. Insults and criticisms, on the other hand, are to be discarded - of course! - because you are not to care what people think of you. If you are made fun of, act nonchalant, because you don't care. So you see there are two sides to this conversation: one which abhors and hides from criticism, and one which delights in the complimentary. But I ask you, where is the middle?

Truth be told, I have always cared what people think of me, and still do. I want to be liked, cared about, loved, thought to be beautiful and have people laugh at my jokes. More than that, I want to know if I am communicating well, alienating people, or hurting feelings. In reality, I have spent far too much time trying to convince myself that people like me, care about me, think I'm beautiful and funny, without ever knowing it full well. I have hurt people and not known it until much later, I have spoken out of turn and ignored the signs I did so. This is just one of the problems with 'not caring' - eventually, as an act of the subconscious, you will enter a moment where you should, and you won't. At current, I am stuck in an awkward dichotomy: caring but not wanting to, and not caring when I want to. What I would love is to remain neutral, for my self esteem to be stationary and separate from commentary; none of this flipping around with the social weather. In other words, I want my self esteem to be self sufficient.

The issue is forcing itself upon me as as of late. I am in regular contact with women and men who act worse than the girls in my high school. They satiate on the humanity of others, and puff themselves above it. They love you until you leave the room. They praise your work until you are out of earshot. They value the Better Story, not the Truth. I walk around daily, in amongst these people, knowing some in this circle are speaking more often of me than to, and I admit it is hard to handle. There is no way for me to gauge where I stand with them. Regardless of the advice, I care. It matters to me how I am perceived, because it matters to me how I effect people. I can not separate the two. And yet, I have begun to let myself graciously understand the difference between an opinion and the truth; I know who I am, and a rumor won't change that. If I let them, the lies can make me stronger.

Perhaps instead of encouraging people not to care, the advice should be reworded: Don't let what people think cripple you, and don't let it effect your pride. Find and put yourself in the middle. DO care about your reputation (important) and your reactions (yours only). The goal should not be an act of separation - "ignore the thoughts and feelings of others, especially if they don't like you!" - but rather, the goal should be to act from a place of stability and love, regardless of opinion. Stay in the moment and learn how to respond appropriately. Care actively about the person who thinks ill of you. Define your boundaries and teach people how to treat you by treating them well. Speak up for yourself, and learn what matters. Use criticism from others as a way to learn about humility and grace, don't ignore it. Accept your faults and grow up past them, don't deny they exist; let them strengthen your resolve and your back bone.

Care, but care about the right things.


anita said...

I had already formulated most of a thoughtful, intelligent answer reading through the post... and then you went and wrote your last paragraph and stole the wind from my eloquent sails dangnabbit! Will you think me thoughtful and intelligent anyway?
Because I care too :) xo

Abigail said...

After replying to your comment on my blog, I figured I'd get caught up on blogs that I haven't read in awhile (like all the blogs I follow... le sigh) and came across this post... wow! Seems we were on the same page a couple days ago.

Like the quote you shared, I need to read the last paragraph badly.

Thank you.