A lot of us try to talk tough. We shout from the rafters that we don’t give a good damn what people think of us. We say we don’t care what they say and that we can rise above it. We tell ourselves “to thine own self be true,” but we seldom believe it.
Most of us obsess about what the people down the hall are saying about us. We are deeply hurt when some mean-spirited assessment of our behavior or character gets back to us. We primp physically, we buy the best we can afford and we present our most charming selves on days we don’t feel at all charming, just so we can “impress” people.
My favorite spiritual author Anthony DeMello is brutal when he describes the self focus of humans. He writes in his book Awareness: “I press a button and you’re up. I press a button and you’re down. And you like that. How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That isn’t human we say. Human means that you have to be a little monkey so everybody can twist your tail and you do whatever you ought to be doing.” DeMello adds “But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you’re in a good mood, nothing more.”
When people berate us, criticize us or belittle us it tells us far more about them that it does us. An older friend was recently devastated when a peer told her how horrible and selfish she was. It was the peer who was acting horrible and selfish but the peer has to live with that. Meanwhile, my friend is devastated because, like most of us, she actually does care what people think of her.
These days I am trying to let the wisdom of a friend guide me when I am victimized by gossip, mean-spirited observations or when somebody just has no use for me. She says “what other people think about me is none of my business.”
I know that’s not new, there is even a book with a similar title, but the phrase was new to me. I find it profoundly shaping advice. It tells me I cannot be concerned about outside opinions. It tells me that I better know who I am, know what my gifts are and I need to know how I use those gifts to help and serve others. If I am confident in my personal assessment of myself, I simply don’t need to know or care what others think or say.
I need to own me and my actions and not let the wagging tongues own me. I need to live, give and love as I see fit, not as someone else dictates.