There has never been a time, in my memory, that I didn’t consider what others think. In fact- it’s more than that. I can’t remember a time where my attention to what others may or may not be thinking didn’t influence my decisions, opinions or actions. I truly care what others think of me.
In seventh grade, while standing at the entrance to the gym in my crisp, new cheerleading outfit, I was ready to strut into the gym when Carolyn looked me up and down and whispered loudly to the girl beside her, “look at those chicken legs.” Right then and there, my strut turned into a metaphorical crawl. The sly remark was the impetus for many evenings of my teen-hood spent doing calf raises on the basement stairs in an attempt to bulk up my spindly legs. Why? Because I care what others think.
No doubt, I am not alone in this. It is human nature to be mindful of what others think. Click on any news program or scroll through any social media site and you can spot it everywhere. We all care what others think, but are others as ruled by it as I tend to be?
My mom, keen to this tendency of mine early on, offered up this not so useful phrase multiple times through my adolescence: “Just put on your duck feathers, honey. Let it roll right off your back.” Truly, the phrase was so corny that I didn’t even know (or care to know) what she meant by it.
When running a workshop at work a few days ago, a women in the back of the room had a disapproving look on her face. Immediately, my thoughts went to worrying. Was my presentation boring? Did she disagree with me? Did she think this was a waste of time? I felt myself spinning into a tizzy. How can I fix this? What can I cut from my presentation? How can I change her opinion? Twenty minutes later she shared with a small group that she was incredibly nervous because it was her first year in her position and she felt like she didn’t know enough to do the job well. Why was I so convinced that her look was a statement about me? It’s simple: I care what others think.
Often times I lay awake at night replaying my day in my mind considering my interactions wondering if someone misunderstood my sarcasm or if I was too harsh in my comment to a colleague. Well rested? Ha, I care what others think!
When a friend belittled my new desire to eat “clean,” my first reaction was that of shame. She may not have meant to insult me, but, I took it personally. It wasn’t until later that I was able to gain the perspective that maybe her comment was coming from a place of curiosity or, perhaps, even jealousy that I was really committed to healthy eating. Why couldn’t I think that way in the moment? Why did I contemplate her brisk comment for days? It’s simple: I care what others think.
While trick-or-treating, my son ran into some boys in his grade. From a distance, I saw an exchange that broke my heart. As my son enthusiastically approached the boys, yelling out a greeting, I saw a look pass between them. I knew that look. They exchanged a few words with him, from what looked like awkward obligation, then, after getting their handful of candy, took off in an opposite direction. My boy had been snubbed. I knew Paul noticed, too. When I casually addressed the situation with my son some time later, he blew off the exchange and I found myself (stupidly) trying to point out how their behavior was rude and downright mean. Here I was trying to impose my obsession with worrying about what others think on him. It’s sad that I care so much about what others think.
Or, is it?
Could it be that what I view as a personality flaw is part of what makes me a compassionate and empathetic human? We all judge people harshly at times. I do it, too. That judgement almost always comes from a feeling I have about myself.
My care for what others think drives me to notice things about others, anticipate their needs, be compassionate to their feelings. My care for what others thinks makes may drive me mad, but it also drives me to treat others how I want to be treated. Maybe it isn’t all bad to truly care what others think.
Since I am still looking for my dang “duck feathers,” for now, I will just continue to worry about what others think.