Yes, you SHOULD care (somewhat) about other people’s opinions.
Too much “self-sufficiency” can make you go insane. Sometimes it’s a GOOD thing to stay humble and take the world around you into account a bit.
…And yes, I’m using music metaphors once again. It’s the dead of winter, I don’t feel like going outdoors to garden or practise martial arts. The harp has been my go-to creative activity.
The topic I’m bringing you today draws from a long-standing pet peeve I have with western culture: the tendency to extremism. Everything easily becomes black-and-white, either-or, this-or-that. I personally have a more “greyscale” approach to life, which is why I prefer Buddhism to pretty much any western belief system. If you disagree, cool, more power to you. I envy your endless preparedness for conflicts which could easily be avoided with some effort to “see” the other side, but you do you.
Another important caveat: I’m not saying “eastern people are more selfless” — eastern people are people. Human beings. Flawed. I’m talking about the philosophy they commonly aspire to, which is more collectivistic and collaborative than western values (whether or not they are SUCCESSFUL at achieving what this philosophy PROPOSES, it’s another story — but at least the goal exists. Unlike here in the west).
The explanation above is important not because I somehow despise western philosophy (again, black-and-white thinking… guys, it is possible to prefer “X” over “Y” without turning it into a war. Trust me), but because I’d like to make sense to you from the very start. If you’re speaking one language, and I’m speaking another, there’s no way we can understand each other, don’t you agree? Sure, it’s entirely your choice to speak my language. I’m not forcing you either way. I’m just saying that if you don’t — if you impose YOUR worldview onto what I AM saying, it might be difficult for you to understand my point. My language is nuanced and non-violent. BUT if you choose to read “either-or” and violence into every wee thing I say ANYWAY, that’s a valid choice — the only problem is, you won’t reach a useful conclusion. If something here is not clear, ask me a question, don’t just jump straight to judging and assuming, and then we’ll have a productive exchange. You’re free to choose that, or choose stress and anger that will lead you nowhere (or insert third option here, probably still not as productive as the first one). What do you choose?
With that out of the way, let’s avail of a cool music metaphor in order to discuss a philosophical topic that could feel too abstract otherwise:
Why do we make music at all?
I was watching a bit of Harp Tuesday (I often do while I warm up. Brilliant series!) and came across this video above. Quick summary for non-harpists here: Josh is talking about adapting sheet music from one kind of harp to the other. At some point in the video he mentions a very well-known Tchaikovsky piece, written for harp, which everyone adapts by default because if you play it literally (ie, following the original sheet music without changes) it doesn’t sound as good.
You see, if musicians (aye, even classical musicians!) were to be hardcore purists and super loyal to every detail of the composition they’re playing, in order to satisfy themselves [and to hell with what the audience thinks]… Maybe nobody other than the musicians themselves would enjoy music. In fact, if that happened (and thankfully it doesn’t usually happen!) music would become a very robotic thing devoid of artistic feeling, poetic license, and all that good stuff we crave when we go see a performance.
I’ll go further: in case you have that narcissistic trait and you think “well, I don’t need an audience, I’m self-sufficient, [insert me-me-me discourse here]”, perhaps this will feel relevant to you: excess perfectionism can take the joy out of any art. When you’re playing/singing/etc for an audience, you can relax a bit on certain details that they aren’t likely to notice because they’re focusing on having fun (and not on fact-checking every note, lol). Rule of thumb in music tends to go along the lines of “practise aiming at perfection, but only perform what already became second nature to you”. It’s inevitable, and it’s why we practise way more than we perform. However, if you’re all alone, no audience at all, everything will feel like practice. You’ll notice every wee mishap, you’ll beat yourself up for it, and there will be no-one to give you a reality check like “hey I didn’t even notice that, you rock”.
So, now I ask you: is it possible that this also happens in other areas of life, not just with music?
The way I see it, aye it does. When you’re giving a presentation or a lecture, is it not important to make sure the students understand your language, and in case they don’t, perhaps choose different words? (Or do you go like “well in MY head it’s clear so I won’t let a bunch of students try and change ME”? That’d be counterproductive, wouldn’t it?)
When you’re saving someone’s life or giving first aid, is it not important to make sure they feel better? Or would you just be like “MY method works on ME so if it still hurts I’m washing my hands to that”? No, that’d be stupid.
So why is it that when it comes to informal relationships, we’re suddenly like “oh but other people’s opinions don’t matter, don’t listen to them at all”?
The answer is simple:
We project, therefore we get defensive.
You see, when you’re doing a job (be it a music gig, a life-saving procedure, selling a product or whatever), you’re interested in the reward (a salary, or peace of mind in helping people, for example). Perhaps you’ll follow a manual, or other kinds of guidance/supervision. So essentially, you’ve already outsourced responsibility on at least two levels: first, the motivation (well, you need money, nothing personal), secondly the standards (you’re following orders or guidelines. Again, nothing personal). Power brings responsibility, so the less power you have, the less responsibility you need to deal with on your own (and the fewer things you’ll take personally as a response to high stress). I’m not saying professional [and other transactional] activities are a breeze, but there’s a certain level of emotional security in them which you won’t find in more informal or spontaneous endeavours. In summary: nobody likes getting bossed around, but the price of being your own boss is a lot of psychological turmoil.
As I say and keep saying, everything in life has a price. Everything is a tradeoff. When you pursue too much freedom and self-reliance, you’re paying for it with the emotional security that WOULD come if you just let your guard down a wee bit and went look for other people’s help.
[Insert here your preferred speculation about how the System doesn’t want us to know that, since if we keep distrusting each other, we can’t unite against it]
Jokes aside, it is true that excessive self-reliance has to do with a lack of trust. Take it from specialists in psychology if you won’t take it from me. And if this became cultural and “normal” when in reality it’s anything BUT, there must be a culprit. But I won’t go too far on that tangent here.
If you’re a bit lost here (don’t worry, it’s mercury retrograde season, I’ll help you), my point is that we usually underestimate how stressful it really is to socialise and “unwind” in the company of other people. It seems counterintuitive to think of work as stress-free and free time as stressful, but emotionally speaking, that’s true anyway.
You see, when something you’re doing has no strings attached (ie, you’re just chatting with a friend on Whatsapp), surely it feels like leisure, but at the same time you lose your frame of reference for what’s “acceptable” and what’s “unacceptable” behaviour from that friend — ya know, you didn’t sign a contract clearly stating all T&C of friendship or whatever. So… What do you do when you’re “ghosted”? What do you do when you’re told something uncomfortable? Well, you get introspective and start thinking of how YOU would act, how YOU would speak, what YOU would do if you were that person. And in case the person doesn’t follow these unspoken rules to a T, suddenly you’re mad at them. That’s called projection.
I’m not criticising anyone for “projecting”. We all do that. It’s a human trait. I guarantee your friend is mentally doing the exact same thing to you at the same time. It’s normal, unfortunately.
Remember I said above, when you don’t have an audience, you can’t get reality checks that could help appease your impostor syndrome? I bet every single reader nodded at it. Sure it feels comfortable and nice to hear. “Here’s one sweet sweet reward you can get from biting the bullet and sharing your work”. Big thumbs up to that, am I right?
What if I told you though… the same logic applies to criticism? Whoa, wait a second, now it’s no longer sweet and comfy. Now we’re talking about difficult stuff. Yikes.
But love it or hate it, “reality checks” go both ways. Sometimes they’re nice to hear, when you realise your projection was too negative and things are in fact more positive. But what if you’re actually overestimating the good stuff? Nobody likes to hear things are in fact grimmer and darker than they expected — but isn’t it just as necessary as listening to the nicer kind of feedback? Why be so defensive against it?
You see, I am not entirely against this western philosophy of individualism and being always sovereign and yadda yadda. I’m not criticising this philosophy istelf — what I’m criticising is a double standard within it. Because clearly, people ARE open to allowing external input in… as long as it’s positive. If someone’s opinion is positive, oh sure, it’s welcome and helpful; but if it’s negative, then suddenly “I’m sovereign and don’t need you”. Yeah. Riiiiight.
I don’t mean to go on a high horse and judge this double standard very harshly. Not at all. I have double standards too, I have shadows too, I as a human being have a lot to learn, so why be smug to you? I’m simply pointing it out. I’m saying “hey, look, I see it. You can’t hide it from me. FYI”.
I find it necessary to tell you I see this double standard, not to humiliate you at all — but in order to let you know well in advance that if you come at me with shallow platitudes like “please don’t care about other people’s opinions”, you won’t be helping me. I can see through it. If by any chance I asked you to help me make sense of a situation with someone, I don’t want you to tell me to be sovereign or whatever. I’m not insecure. I’m not after a cozy hug. I’m emotionally detached and looking for logical sense. Simple as that.
And besides, it isn’t your place, or anyone’s place really, to dictate to me what I should or should not care about. So what if I care about someone’s opinion? Why does that bother you? I didn’t ask for an evaluation of my value system. I asked for help trying to figure someone out, because I wanna. Period.
What about bullies, you might be asking
Well. What about them? We all know there are two kinds of negative feedback in life: constructive and destructive. Bullies are people who choose the destructive route, just in order to hurt you, without meaning well at all. Yes I’m aware they exist. When dealing with bullies, internet trolls, and similar scum, by all means be sovereign and stubborn. Rule of thumb: if you can’t find anything insightful in someone’s input, just hate, it’s a bully — or a very butthurt normal person acting as a bully, which is essentially the same for all intents and purposes.
But not everyone who isn’t immediately agreeable is a bully. That’s where I’m getting here. What if you’re just being overly defensive? What if you’re automatically calling a bully or “hater” someone who actually means well and could be super helpful? Maybe some people don’t give it much thought, but I’m personally on the lookout for that.
The elephant in the room lies, again, in our lack of personal frameworks to deal with this kind of situation outside a professional setting. If someone bullies you at work, you call HR. If someone is bullying you in a friendship or relationship, what do you do? There’s no framework or procedure set in stone. You’ll just rely on your instincts and inner truths — which may be different from other people’s instincts and inner truths. They’re subjective, there’s no “boss” behind them to back them up and defend you. And it’s a necessary struggle, even though it’s a struggle. Nobody has it any easier.
That’s why a lot of people choose to stay protected from potential bullies… By never even chancing vulnerability or emotional connection. (I mean, I know an entire country where people are like that. I live in it). This is… a choice, I guess. I beg to differ, though, and my choice is valid too, even if it makes you eyeroll and go like “oh, Meron is soooo insecure she won’t even stand up to herself [aka stay forever emotionally detached from everyone ever]”. Okay, I won’t try to change anyone’s minds on that. You’re free to assume whatever. I don’t care.
The hard to swallow pill is, in case you fit the description above, perhaps you’re jealous of me — you have totally given up on deepening your relationships and learning to speak other people’s languages. I haven’t. I dare to keep trying and risking rejection.