“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
How often do you find yourself worrying about the opinion of other people? You don’t want to look dumb, frumpy, clumsy, boring, etc. You don’t want others to gossip about how you’re lazy worker, an irresponsible parent, or a selfish spouse.
Like my Maw-Maw says, “Opinions are like butts, everybody’s got one.” Then why do we change our behavior as if that judgment is a fact?
Of course everyone cares about what other people think, but there’s a fine line between consideration and jumping through hoops at our own expense. One could spend a whole lifetime trying to please others and missing out on the experiences that matter to them most.
In a recent article on rejection associate editor Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., wrote: “Rejection is just an opinion. Similarly, we assume that rejection is the universal, ultimate truth. But in actuality, it’s someone’s opinion, which is based on a slew of factors.”
After reading that I began to wonder how often I’ve avoided being myself or held myself back just because I feared judgment or I believed the opinion of someone else. That’s time that I could have spent playing with my dog, reading or finishing my novel.
There are a few truths about opinions that we should remember when they sting.
1. You can’t please everyone.
We all know this, but we try anyway. We want to be liked. It feels good. But other people only know what we show them. They only have an impression of us. They can’t really know us through and through. That makes them not very reliable gauges of self-worth.
Relying on external validation to feel confident and self-assured will always fail. Other people can’t be depended upon to build you up and they shouldn’t be. We have to be our own advocate.
2. Opinions change.
Sure, you never thought you’d love vegetables or couscous or octopus. Things change over time. Something we didn’t like our whole lives can suddenly become something we love.
Even opinions on contentious issues can still change. In a recent episode of “This American Life” canvassers in California found that they could change the minds of voters who were against gay marriage by honest, one-on-one personal chats.
Opinions aren’t static. We may want them to be because we often equate our opinions with our identity, with living our values. But we all grow and change over time — even if it’s just a little bit.
Our perspective changes as we age. We hold less harsh opinions about divorce and parenting mistakes when we’ve been through them ourselves. Hindsight really is 20/20.
You also appreciate different things in people at different times in your life depending on your perspective, needs and experience, which leads me to my next point.
3. One person’s opinion can say more about them than it does about you.
It’s liberating to finally realize that some opinions say more about the people who hold them than anything else. Insecure people often put their insecurities on other people. For instance, I had a friend who was so self-conscious each time he would change his hairstyle that he’d spend most of his time making fun of my hair. It took me a while to put it together because I had liked his new hairdo in the first place.
A lot of harsh criticism is bandied about to disguise a great deal of self-hate and perfectionism. For many years, I believed that other people were responsible for accurately measuring my worth. Today my self esteem is still a work in progress. I build happiness through self-compassion, and the happier I get the harder it is to feel bad about myself. I also avoid jumping to harshly criticize others. It’s a bad habit and the less I critique others, the less I do it to myself.
My favorite of the Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz is “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
There’s so much to take away from that statement. If we lived our lives by it we would find we have a lot more time to pursue our own happiness and joy in life.