How not to care about opinions of others - with a twist
March 25, 2020 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Al the conventional wisdom says not to care about the opinions of others, meaning haters or naysayers. The thing is this sort of wisdom has always seemed very privileged to me, because others often have big influence or even control over my prospects, safety, and other aspects of my wellbeing. I’m sure I’m not alone in this aspect. How do I reconcile these contradictions?

Looking for anecdotes, readings, advice, or anything that can offer insight. Many thanks!
posted by The Last Sockpuppet to Human Relations (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Well, 'haters and naysayers' can only be a subset of 'others.' There will be other 'others' whose opinions are worth paying attention to. I think you need to define what qualifies someone as a hater or naysayer.

There are people whose negative opinions will actually have little to do with you, and whom you'll never be able to please, but you shouldn't assume that anyone with something critical to say deserves to be ignored.
posted by jon1270 at 4:29 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

That advice is generally meant to apply to your internal beliefs about yourself. If someone says you suck, don’t internalize that. Don’t adopt their opinion as your own.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:36 PM on March 25 [21 favorites]

So, this sounds like a distorted explanation of the wisdom that says you should focus on controlling your own thoughts, emotions, and actions, because you cannot control those of anyone else. This doesn't mean you don't care about the opinions of others, but more that you shouldn't get your validation externally. Instead, you focus on yourself to determine your own needs and values, and then check to see that your thoughts and actions are reflecting those values.

Lots of self-help books address this in great detail and instruction, especially books about co-dependency, which are mainly about the ways that people (usually in response to abuse or trauma) try to mind other people's business in order to escape the pain of doing their own emotional work.

A new book, that is friendly and accessible, and doesn't use so much of the self-help/12-step language that some people find bothersome, is "Everything Isn't Terrible" by Kathleen Smith.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:38 PM on March 25 [7 favorites]

There's a fundamental distinction to be drawn here between the effect of the opinions of others, and the worth of the opinion of others. One is unavoidable, for all the reasons that you've said, but the other is to perceive or judge yourself.

Let's say that your boss doesn't like you—doesn't think you're a good worker, doesn't trust you, doesn't like to chat to you on your breaks, just doesn't like your face. That's going to affect your work, obviously, but it doesn't actually mean that you really are a bad untrustworthy worker. Are you? We all reconcile that contradiction differently, because each one of us perceives ourselves in the judgements others make about us to a greater or lesser extent.

And even more than that, humans tend to be really really bad at making good judgements about what we think of each other: we project onto others the judgements, conscious or unconscious, we make about ourselves! Does your boss behave that way around you because of their beliefs, or are you interpreting their behaviour in the light of your own? Who knows?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:42 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]

I like to think of that idea as a question: what do you care what they think? If there's an answer that makes rational material sense--I respect their opinion or they control my access to resources--then I can choose whether or not to alter my behavior or reconsider my convictions based on that. But I do not assume that just because someone has an opinion means you have to listen to it.

It used to be, if someone didn't like me, I worried about what I had done, tried to figure out why, and twisted myself around to win them over. Now, in the same situation, I'll consider my behavior, think about how it maybe doesn't fit with their personality, and try to be courteous to them without worrying if they like me.

Part of it is definitely about knowing yourself and really understanding which elements of your beliefs, personality, and behavior relate to convictions, which are habits, and which are just whims. It helps you know which changes you can and should make for the people around you and which ones you cannot and should not. I will try to keep my naturally loud voice down for someone whose opinion I value or for someone I don't respect, but I will not reconsider a moral stance for someone whose values I don't trust.
posted by gideonfrog at 4:46 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]

(1) You define yourself. What others say about you is NOT necessarily who you really are. Only you decide that. You may decide to be influenced by others, you may decide others are right about you in some ways after consideration, but always, the decision should be your own. Your sense of self comes from within.

(2) What other people think of you does matter in other ways (not for self definition). You need to get along with others, make connections, form relationships, love and be loved, give and take, use and be used, etc. etc. So you may decide to express yourself and present yourself in ways that help you do what you need to do with others. However, at no point are you allowing your presentation to become muddled with your inner reality. Your sense of self drives your choices in presentation; not the other way around.

That's what people mean when they say "don't care about the opinion of others". You care about the opinion of others only to the extent that you allow it to influence the way you present yourself to them, after your inner self has decided what you want your relationship with them to be. You don't allow other people's opinions to directly reach the inner self.

Suggested readings: Dr. Harriet Lerner's books.
posted by MiraK at 4:48 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

There’s the old saying, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. A lot of what people have said about internalizing is true. This sounds out of left field (pardon the wrong sports metaphor), but the book that I think might be most helpful to you is “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey. It’s about tennis, yeah, but more broadly it’s about not interpreting everything as a value judgment. In tennis, that manifests itself as “I just hit the ball into the net; I’m a bad player”. You can see how it would manifest itself in other areas of life. The book is largely about how to listen to the “I hit the ball into the net” part and disregard the “I’m a bad player” part.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:31 PM on March 25

I’ve always taken it as: be aware of the practical implications of others’ opinions of you (in terms of them limiting or granting your access to resources based on their feelings on your personality) but don’t let it penetrate your person (make you feel unduly good or bad about yourself).

If you find yourself sunken into bad feelings because so and so doesn’t like you, that’s not great.

If you plow ahead bull in a China shop and then are baffled why “things just don’t work out for you” that’s not good either.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:30 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

The world isn't totally right here, but neither is it totally wrong. It's true that people's opinions of us aren't as big a deal as we often think they are; frankly, they often don't care as much about us as we think they do.

At the same time, we rely on others to know how we affect them. As much as we are in charge of ourselves, we have to pay attention to others to know the impact we have.

I've been watching a lot of Kitchen Nightmares lately, since it's been up on YouTube, and every single episode has an example of this playing out. Most people fit into one of two buckets:

One is the people who believe that the haters are wrong. Ramsay will come in and say, "You're serving five day old soup, and I ate it and it was terrible" and they'll just not believe him.

The other is the people who are just too nice. Either they see something that they know is wrong and they don't take action, or they avoid even looking at it. They don't want to bring their own opinions and observations, because it will rock the boat.

It's just a show, of course. But those are the two failure modes: control by demanding too much, and control by preserving the peace.

Ever hear the phrase "right size your ego"? This is what that's about.
posted by billjings at 10:57 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

A lot of the people who need to hear that advice are worrying about strangers or about "people" as a category. "I can't do that, what will people say?" Or worry that something you do will "make you look bad".

Or they may be subordinating their own moral compass and wishes to what other people will judge or want from them. The key is to develop your own internal moral compass and judgment. You can still care about what other people will think, say, do, but you shouldn't use that as a substitute for forming your own judgments and making your own decisions.
posted by Lady Li at 9:49 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]

I remember someone telling me once that for all good advice, the converse is also true - So it's important to not to live your life focused on what your worst enemy will think of you, and it's also important to care about other people and listen to them.

"If one person calls you an ass, you can ignore them. If two people call you an ass, check for ears and a tail. if three people call you an ass, buy a saddle." This particular aphorism shows up sometimes with more people - obviously in a world of internet where you might be getting feedback from a million strangers, you would have to scale it. But the principle is good, if you're hearing something from a lot of people you should think about why you might give that impression.
posted by Lady Li at 9:54 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of conventional wisdom out there saying the opposite, about putting yourself in another's shoes, etc.

Conventional wisdom often doesn't apply to your specific situation. Apply your own wisdom. If people suggest you follow certain conventional wisdom, keep in mind that their understanding of the situation is different than your understanding of the situation, and that the best course of action for someone else might not be the best thing for you.
posted by yohko at 1:54 PM on March 26

Well, it's both: we do care about how others feel about us, but sometimes we have to prioritize our own feelings & intuitions over what others think, of course.

I often see these sorts of sentiments about individuality expressed by youth on places like Reddit, because they are negotiating a transition in life: when you're young, you really do have to care what people think about you because we rely on people for support, friendship, alliances, & mentorship; we need "esteem" (as the social philosophers said) in order to survive. But as we get older these relationships evolve into something more complex & nuanced.

If we eventually live long enough, our alliances & rivalries sort themselves out. Esteem is always a thing, but it's been mostly decided by then. So we get to the age where "finally nobody cares what you think".
posted by ovvl at 3:27 PM on March 26

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