I remember a line in my head that says, “Take neither their praise nor their criticism.” I don’t remember who said this or in what context I read or heard it, but it made so much sense to me. If you truly want to be the kind of person who doesn’t care about the opinions of others, you would not fawn when they praised you, nor faint when they criticized you. You would simply be constant, and true to yourself regardless of their approval or disapproval.
When I was a teenager, I recall this being an important distinction of individuality: that you didn’t care what anyone thought. Although the truth is, try as hard as I might, I always cared what someone thought. Not everyone, mind you, but someone. There were always people whose opinions I valued.
Still, as I grew older, with a mind that always sought and analyzed and questioned, I wondered how much I could trust in those other opinions. This was particularly meaningful to me when I found myself losing confidence in myself.
All around me I had people who loved me and were eager to tell me how wonderful I was. But I didn’t believe it. And it didn’t feel like the kind of thing that I could simply take their word for. I had to believe it for myself.
It was a long fight to get myself to the point of holding that belief again, and that’s not really the point of this post, so I’ll move on.
The point is: I believe that we should care what other people think, as long as we don’t emphasize their opinions more strongly than our own beliefs. I don’t think that any of us were made to operate completely independently of one another; as a creature, we’re designed to seek connection and companionship. But every time you hear someone’s opinion of you, whether it’s good or bad, you have the opportunity to decide whether or not you agree with that opinion.
Honestly, I believe that’s more the area in which we should be operating. If someone says something lovely or something hateful about me, I’m probably not going to be able to completely separate myself emotionally from that opinion. I doubt I would ever have the ability to say I don’t care what they say, and actually mean it in every case. This is true even with people I don’t know: when someone new follows my blog I get a little buzz of joy, and I’m sure if anyone ever says something negative about my writing (which will likely happen) it will sting. And if those strangers are able to impact me in such a way, you can certainly believe that people I’m closer to who actually know me are going to have an even stronger impact.
Yet even when those words have an impact on me, I can choose how strongly they do so. I can choose whether to accept or disagree with those statements, and I can choose whether they change my behavior. Being open to the words keeps me open as a person, and applying my own thoughts and opinions to them keeps me true to myself.
So if you’ve ever struggled with concern about what other people think of you, you’re not alone. But I think maybe it’s something that we don’t have to fight so hard to ignore. Maybe we just have to fight to take responsibility for how we handle it inside ourselves.