“What will people think?”
Suddenly I feel like I am bumping into this issue all over my life.
From the television shows and movies I watch to the magazine articles I read….to family disputes and conversations with friends….
To be honest, some days I wonder if this concern – even more than the drive to earn or the desire to connect – literally runs our world.
People kill, steal, yell, hide, run, lie, choose a profession, choose a mate, choose a home or a car, dress a certain way, adopt particular hobbies, make decisions, and even literally change everything about their lives and themselves in an effort to control what other people think.
One area where this crops up frequently for me personally is with recovery matters. In running MentorCONNECT, the eating disorders mentoring nonprofit I founded in 2009, I still read through hundreds of membership applications each year.
Many applicants cite concerns about privacy and confidentiality – citing as their reason a concern about being judged by family, friends, or peers for having an eating disorder or needing recovery support.
Some applicants even apply under a pseudonym because of this concern – “what will people think?”
Another area where this issue of what people might think crops up is with faith and spirituality. Luckily, in my family, we were raised to be open-minded, respectful towards, and accepting of other faiths and other belief systems.
But not everyone opts for this approach.
I found this out the hard way many years ago, when I was part of a church community but felt uncomfortable with some of the theology (i.e. exclusion of certain people based on their lifestyle preferences, a judgmental attitude towards non-Christians). Expressing my questions earned not an interesting dialogue but a closed door from the head pastor and his staff.
Needless to say, I have since moved beyond any religious identification or affiliation towards an inner-directed spirituality that both feels better and works much better for me personally.
Yet another area where the “what will people think?” question has proven challenging and, at times, earned me a pink slip, is in the workplace. I spent more than a decade as a temporary employee, moving from blue chip company to blue chip company for short-term assignments as an assistant or receptionist.
At each company I encountered a slightly different “culture” – including everything from how to talk to senior executives to what to wear on “casual Fridays” to how often a receptionist could reasonably expect to be permitted to take a bathroom break.
I found I did best in the companies with more relaxed, tolerant policies – in other words, the companies that treated people like trustworthy adults rather than wayward kids.
And for many years – in an ongoing evolution – I am continuing to deal with the issue of “what will people think?” in my own family of origin.
From family members who do not think it is acceptable for another family member to call them at their workplace, to family members who cannot grasp how a 43-year-old woman could choose to be unmarried and not have kids, to family members who question whether “freelance writer” is a) a respectable career or b) a career at all, there are so many ways people’s concerns about what other people might think can crop up.
So surprisingly many ways.
Recently, I have begun to seriously imagine what human life might be like if we DIDN’T concern ourselves with what other people might think.
I say this for a couple of reasons, the most compelling of which is that, try as I may and imagine as I might, I can never really know for sure what another person is thinking. They might not tell me, or they might not even know themselves. They might lie about what they think, and they may or may not know they are lying. Sometimes I am not even sure what I truly think about an issue or situation, so how on earth can I ever expect to know what another person – no matter how close to me they are – is really thinking?
Another reason is because my pet parrot, Pearl, never wonders or worries about what I think, and he gets on just fine. In fact, I love him more because he is so transparent and honest. If he needs to scratch, he scratches, If he needs to poop, he poops. If he is tired, he takes a nap. If he is bored, he screams. No amount of persuasion on my part can change his mind. He is impervious to “what will people think?”
The reason for this is because he doesn’t care. He is taking care of himself and his own needs, and it is a full time job.
I love it. I aspire to follow Pearl’s example.
I aspire to make “what will people think?” a concern of my past.
But I am not yet certain how to cope with the fact that, for many people in my life, the concern about what others will think is alive and well, and often their concerns involve attempts to mold or modify my words, actions, and lifestyle as well.
That dilemma, I continue to ponder.
Today’s Takeaway: How do you cope with your own and others’ worries about what people might think? Do you find that this worry intrudes on your life more than you might prefer – either through your own decisions and choices or those of others in your life (or both)? Do you think concerns about what other people think have a place in our life and society – why or why not? I would love to hear your take on this issue!!
Judgmental person image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 6 Jun 2014