Caring Too Much About What People Think
This modern world makes sure we never lack want. Whatever you may have, there is an advertisement waiting to tell you that you don't have enough. Releasing materialism is at the center of most spiritual quests.
Yet, companies aren't just selling products; they are selling images of love and sexuality. These visuals glom together to form our cultural norms. In addition to desiring designer labels, fancy foods, flashy cars, and exotic experiences, we also crave people. Not just any people – the right people. The people who will look good surrounding us in photographs or bump us up the ladder.
We need love. We need a steady diet of community and connection. Just as we can't renounce food completely, we can't renounce relationships. The challenge is to recognize the difference between the demands of the ego and the call of our souls.
I have read so many articles and books on how to surround yourself with only the best people. I believed their advice about finding my tribe and on gently removing toxic people from my life.
Then, I noticed a limiting habit in my behavior toward people, especially people I was meeting for the first time.
I'd mentally be calculating whether or not we “clicked” and how our relationship would be positive or negative in the future.
Basically, I was making snap decisions on who was worthwhile and who wasn't. Like some sort of comparison shopper, I attempted to predict who would give me the most return for my time investment.
I was in a state of constant networking.
And I hate networking.
I know I am not the only one in this state because I've witnessed that look-over-the-shoulder-of-the-person-you-are-talking-to-see-if-there-is-someone-more-important move.
Or even worse, the moment when a whole group of people are all checking their phones to see if something more interesting might be happening. I live in L.A. so my experiences might be intensified by the “are you a somebody” culture.
You also hear this attitude come out when someone you know is going through a break-up. The immediate go-to conversation involves all the ways your friend is too good for the person they are no longer with. We are well-trained bashers.
I realized this social hierarchy thinking not only risked hurting the people I interacted with but it also hurt me. I worry about whether or not I'm a person worth knowing. I fret over snubs and rejections (imagined and real).
And like everyone in this city of celebrity and images, I have been know to obsess a bit about how I'm being perceived. To add to this senseless suffering, I also have no idea what tribe I belong to. Should I travel with the yogis? Or do I want to hang with the writers? Do I look like a filmmaker? Do I dress like I care about the environment and indie music? How about the vegans?
Posting the intimate details of my life and thoughts on the internet doesn't help this problem (in this era of social media, we all do this to some extent because no other generation has had such a wide-reaching platform for self-expression and obsession).
A few weeks ago, a woman I had only know for a month or so told me I wasn't at all what she expected from my writing. She went on to elaborate that my words made me sound wise and mature while in real life I was... (she let the sentence trial off as my mind raced through all my worst fault and most embarrassingly needy moments).
In retrospect, I should have finished her thought with the word “human.” Instead, I worried about it for days. Scratch that, I am worrying about it still.
Like anyone, I balance many different (and at times conflicting) identities. Underneath all these manifestations of my personality, I know I am something more – something I can't even really define because it is not attached to any of my labels or any materiality. We are all made of this essence.
So when I am being pulled between all the different options of how to present myself, how to dress, what sort of people I should date, and what I should keep private, I remember to pause and breath into that unknown. I have a Maya Angelou quote on my wall telling me daily, “you alone are enough... you have nothing to prove to anybody.”
I care a lot about what people think. Rephrase, I care way too much about what every person thinks. I try to remember Martha Beck's wisdom: “since you can't control other people's thoughts, and since neither people nor their thoughts are perfect, there no point living life based on your fantasies of other people's fantasies about you.”
Still, I want to be everything to everyone.
I'll admit, I am not above editing my personality to try to match another person or group's tone. It's not that I am being fake or even lying, I'll just play up some traits and let others stay dormant.
Early childhood bullying for being overly imaginative, taught me when to keep my mouth shut and how to read my audience. I'm highly opinionated and have many convictions, which keep me from bending too far. But, within those boundaries, I am still an actor and a storyteller. And, despite listening to Eckhart Tolle during my daily commute, my ego is very much intact.
That's when it dawned on me that this must be true of everyone. Your habits, clothing, and every other make up of your identity is transitory and fleeting. By trying to categorize others and by constantly asking why this person is in my life, I was missing out on the truth of who they were.
By judging, I lost the chance to simply be present with another person.
We are all so busy doing the dances of our identity and longing to be the object of the right person's attention that we forget to experience community.
Is it any wonder we feel isolated, lonely, and misunderstood?
I also think it is strange how we think we know people completely even without meeting them. We forget the quote about walking in another person's shoes. We forget that even a constant stream of words and video can only ever capture a portion of a person.
Worse, we believe we have a right to their lives and a right to voice our opinions about people if they step into the public sphere. We feel betrayed and angry if their actions don't line up with our expectations.
I've heard it said that we should give to others what we hope to receive. It's basically the golden rule. I asked myself what I really wanted to receive. Did I want to be sought out for what I could do for other people? Did I want to be judged harshly and then found worthy? Did I want to be put on a pedestal? Did I want to try to edit myself into impossible perfection?
No. I didn't want to have to work that hard to remain in someone's company. All I really want is to be surrounded by people who will come and sit with me once and awhile and say: “You don't know who you are or where your going, that's cool, neither do we. Let's be a little lost here, together, in this moment because any sense of certainty we gain will eventually shift.” I'd also like some passionate, hard-working people to share a few of my visions and help them come true.
I want to be that person for others. I want to be intensely, genuinely present without labels or agendas. I know this will take practice and a gentle rewiring of my thoughts. But it is worth it because the world is my tribe. There have been days (or weeks or months) when I have behaved like a toxic person in individuals' lives.
Like everyone else, I am capable of being a gift or a nightmare.
I reserve the right to disappoint you. I'll give you my thoughts because, some days, they are all I have to give. Be gentle with me because tomorrow those thoughts may change. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it: "I wish to say what I think and feel today, with the proviso that tomorrow perhaps I shall contradict it all."
So here it is for you, a moment, a touch of vulnerability, and the realization that, underneath it all, we are one.