We walk through life as vessels of influence and impact. We design our exteriors to show others what we’d like them to see, carefully constructing the pieces so that we might influence their understanding of us. We orchestrate a life which we hope will be fulfilling, and worthwhile, but also impressive. We don’t always think much of it, sometimes it sits in our subconscious, telling us, buy that, wear this, make better conversation, be this kind of person. Sometimes we feel it viscerally, the pressure to be liked by others, to be respected by others, to be seen.
Each of us is playing more or less the same game, trying to influence the ways in which we are seen by others. When we ourselves aren’t thinking about it, societal convention demands that we consider the thoughts of others: work uniforms, manners, school rules, ‘political correctness’, the law. We might recognise elements of this as action for the ‘common good’, but should we care what other people think?
In order to be an active member of society, perhaps we have no choice other than to consider what other people might think of us. It’s widely believed that the ability to feel self-consciousness was a trait handed down by natural selection, keeping us safer and more productive within our tribes. But, like so many things, this element of our mindset does not always translate well in contemporary life. Instead of focusing our energy on getting to work and getting the job done, we must consider if our work clothes are appropriate, take a shower, brush our hair, prepare our manner for meetings and interactions.
There are different kinds of rebellion when it comes to deserting our need to care what others think. First, there’s the exterior: seen in counter culture across the world, an opposing fashion going against the cultural norm of the local environment- striking coloured hair, eye-catching style, an active move away from monochrome workwear. Then there’s the interior, which is more varied between individuals: uncommon belief systems, standing against common politics, interests which go against cultural ‘norms’.
Caring about what others think of us allows us to be productive within society, we are able to get jobs and work under management within teams, to help people, and to have a place within a friend group. But caring too much about the thoughts of others can lead us down a path of avoidance, anxiety, and trying to be someone we’re not.
By taking the time to understand yourself, and your needs, and to set boundaries between your decisions and the thoughts of others, you can find a compromise between living life for yourself AND being a productive part of wider society.
Do you care what other people think of you?
Featured image: Nathan Dumalo via Unsplash.