Caring what other people think

When people say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks about me,” my reaction is, “you’re kidding yourself.” It’s the human condition. I often ponder what it is that makes us care what people think about us; what’s really behind it all? So I riffed on this in a little ditty (350 words max) that constitutes me throwing my hat into the ring for a one-year essay-writing gig at my local paper. Might as well share it here. 

By Diane Daniel

In college, in the late ‘70s, I had streaks of purple in my hair and an earring at the top of my ear instead of the lobe, rare sights in those days, at least in Florida.

“How are you going to get a job looking like that?” my father asked. “What will people think?”

“I don’t care what anybody thinks!” I said, shooting him a sharp look.

That wasn’t true, of course. While I didn’t much care what school administrators or prospective employers thought, I did want to impress the cool kids, the ones listening to the Talking Heads and wearing vintage clothing.

My hair is now graying and I removed that earring two decades ago. I’ve since acknowledged that I do care what people think. Don’t we all? Is there anyone who has been laid off or divorced or gained weight or a number of things small and large who hasn’t worried what people think about them?

In 2010 I endured the biggest test of all when my husband changed genders. It goes without saying that many areas of our lives were affected. I had a hard time admitting to myself that one of my biggest struggles was other people’s reactions. What would the neighbors say? What would friends and family think? How much would people gossip about us? What does this say about me? If I stay, will people think I’m pathetic, sick, insane? Or maybe courageous, empathetic, loving?

“I never took you for someone who cares what other people think,” one friend told me.

“Really?” I countered. “You didn’t take me for a human being?”

Unlike my purple-haired youthful self, not only can I acknowledge that I care, I can dig deeper to explore what those fears and vulnerabilities really mean. I can make sure that, as much as possible, my actions reflect my core beliefs and not those of family or society or anyone else.

When I reached that place with my marriage, I knew I wanted to stay. To some, I’m probably insane, and to others, courageous. To me, I’m just human, like you.

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8 Responses to Caring what other people think

  1. Kristin says:

    It is certain we can’t control what other people think. That much, at least, hopefully, we can give up on. Thanks for sharing your essay. I love it — very thought-provoking.

  2. Plaid says:

    Hi Diane,
    I can totally relate. I struggle with letting what other people think, or what they might think, prevent me from taking action in my life. That fear can, at times be paralyzing. I so admire people who are able to overcome that fear and do something truly extraordinary.

    • didaniel says:

      Yes, and it can work both ways. Sometimes we take action based on what others might think of us. We want to look good in their eyes, or whatever. So at times we shrink away from doing something because of what people say and other times we’re moved to do things at the behest of others instead of ourselves. I think the most important thing is to be able to examine this tendency instead of denying we have it at all.

  3. Danielle says:

    There was a time in my life when I learned to not care what others think. It was a survival mechanism then and it scares me today – being that disconnected and having to be so just to survive.

    • didaniel says:

      It sounds like you’re saying a balance is good. At least that’s my interpretation, and I do agree with that. I hope you’re able to forge more connections in the future. I think they’re a basic human need and certainly keep us healthier in all ways. Good energy to you…

      • Danielle says:

        I’m not sure just what it is, other than in the past now. I was dealing with a lot of people who very much wanted me to want their approval (care what they thought) but only so they could deny me that. I had something of a eureka moment on this in my teens. There’s little point seeking approval when you know it will never be. And, once I did, they became very frustrated that I had escaped their control method.

      • didaniel says:

        Yes, I know what you mean. I don’t so much seek people’s approval, but I suppose I want it in some way, though I don’t usually change my behavior for it. Sometimes I do though, and I think many of us do, maybe in ways we’re not even aware of.

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