I wish I could honestly tell you that I don’t give a crap about what other people think. I tell myself I don’t care. I know deep down that it doesn’t matter, and as the saying goes, what other people think of me is none of my business.
I know I can’t control what other people think, and there is no use trying. People can get the wrong impression, take something I did or said out of context, and make their own false accusations. The simple fact is, people have a right to their own judgments, which means I have a right to mine.
And there you have it. I just gave my accusers and judges more power by becoming exactly like them. I am now the one making false accusations, judgments, and assumptions. Even if I use the term, “sink to their level” I am putting myself in a level higher than others. This is not the spiritual path I want to take.
I think part of the reason we are so bothered about what other people think is the power we give to thoughts and opinions. We need only look at Nazi, Germany or the poor treatment and execution of the Native Americans in our own country to see the damage that can be driven by opinions.
If someone has an opinion different from mine, are they going to convince others to think like them? Will I eventually be convinced and coerced into thinking like them? It can be scary when you find people have opinions so different from yours, especially when it comes to moral or spiritual topics.
In Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, she speaks of a study that exemplifies perfectly how fast opinions change when it comes to peer pressure. The participants in the study were asked a simple question such as which line is longer. By themselves, the participants all got the answer to this ridiculously easy question right.
Then a variable was added. The participants were put into groups. Each group was assigned an actor (unknowingly to the participants) who appeared normal, intelligent, and attractive to the participants. The actor would say the wrong line is longer. And what did you know, participants changed their answers and tended to agree with the actor’s wrong answer.
This turned into a study on peer pressure. Those conducting the study wanted to know if the participants were going through an internal struggle when they picked the wrong answer. Did they realize the answer was wrong or did their opinion really change based on the opinion of another?
Anyone care to guess? The findings were disturbing. It showed that there was no internal struggle going on. The participants’ opinions of what was right and wrong actually changed based on someone else’s opinion.
That is scary, isn’t it? I dare to guess that everyone can think of a time where they have fallen victim to peer pressure. We like to think this gets better as adults, but I’m not always sure of that. It’s almost like a temporary amnesia, where you think if everyone else is doing it, it’s ok.
When I was in college, I lived in a suite (very close quarters) with eight other girls. I remember at one point telling my mom I feel like my thoughts are no longer my own. Looking back, there was a lot of truth to that statement.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was longing for something that only a certain solitude was going to get me: my own thoughts back. My aunt told me when I left for college: “stay true to yourself.” This is easier said than done when living with eight other twenty year old women.
So how do we do it? Because the fact is, we do live in this world and we are affected by others thoughts and opinions. I would shudder at the thought of telling people only to hang around people who’s thoughts and feelings are the same as yours.
The answer is not complicated. We need time alone, time in meditation, time with God. The answers are there waiting for you. I can’t tell you what to think, what to believe, or how to completely release judgment. But God can. So get quiet and listen.
Peace, Love, and Your Own Thoughts Back,
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Flickr Creative Commons, coolio-claire, Whispers
Flickr Creative Commons, jhoc, solitude