Monday, June 21, 2010

I Don't Care What You Think. Except When I Do.

My dearest friend in high school had a disarming way of saying exactly what was on her mind. She didn't care a whit for what other people thought about her utter lack of subtlety. Those who loved her understood how she was and overlooked any perceived offense, those who didn't know or love her didn't merit any notice on her radar.

How I envied her.

For a while I even fancied that I was the same. Saying precisely what was on my mind was my modus operandi for ages 17 through um . . . about the time I became a missionary. It was odd really because Aussies are known for shooting straight from the hip--their brutal honesty was shocking beyond belief sometimes. (Ohmygosh! Did you notice that huge zit on your nose???!!?? Um, yeah, thanks, I did strangely enough.) I think my care about how other perceived me stemmed a lot from the fact that I was no longer just speaking for myself. I wore a black name tag that professed to the world that I represented a lot of interests: my surname made me a part of a family, the name of the Church made me an official spokesperson, but perhaps most importantly were the words JESUS CHRIST in all caps letters, overshadowing everything else on the tag. People might form opinions about Him based on their interaction with me.

And yet, Christ himself wasn't afraid of offending when real bluntness called for it.

My post-mission days never saw me completely revert to the person I was before (thank goodness for that), but I sometimes still wonder who the "real" me is--the person who blurted out whatever was on her mind, too often mistaking bitter sarcasm for wit? Or the person I was on my mission who would smile sweetly through all kinds of shocking revelations people found themselves to willing to give?

As seems to be the case with nearly everything in my life, the truth is probably some where in the middle. I know this will sound odd to some of you, as my writings here don't often shirk from controversy. (I am probably the same in person, too.) However, when the argument strays into the personal or the tone takes that perceptible drop in civility, I find my heart beating faster and my hands clammy. A slightly nauseous feeling sits in my stomach and I'm suddenly consumed with guilt for having hurt someone's feelings. Even potentially. In "real" life, I tend to keep my opinions a little closer to the chest, not wanting to wreck the potential for friendships because I was too blunt or too outspoken too soon.

Recently I read a blog, following a link from a trusted page to an interesting name, and found myself confronted with some pretty in-your-face political ideology, much of it at odds with my own thoughts. It was clear that many of the person's comment-ers and followers were like- minded, and though I might have said a good many things (my brain was so full of things to say that I could hardly form a coherent sentence), I refrained. I knew it would be useless, first of all. I also knew that what might make me feel better for a moment would probably not in the long run. I also knew I wouldn't be able to keep myself from checking back on the blog no doubt to find myself vilified and grilled. And for what?

My peace of mind would be, at least momentarily, deeply shaken. In addition, I would have stirred somebody else up to even greater anger than they already carried.

At the same time, just as with my friend from high school, I held a sort of grudging admiration for the writer of the blog. She clearly didn't give a damn who disagreed with her or if the whole world knew it.

Though the blog was anonymous. Interesting. So maybe she does care.

And, as it turns out, so do I. I care if people like me. I am concerned when I offend somebody, particularly a family member. If I am sarcastic in blog of Facebook comment, I obsess a bit about whether or not the person picked up on my tone. I care about whether or not somebody's perception of me affects their perception of the LDS Church, or Christians or my family or my husband or my children.

No doubt most of you have read that allegorical book "You Are Special" about the sweet little puppet who is made fun of by the others of his kind--their labels and criticisms sticking to him like glue. That is, these things stick to him until he meets his loving Maker in whose opinion he learns better to trust. I love that story. I love the idea that God's opinion should matter more to us than others' opinions.

But I'm just not there yet.

Please, chime in, do you care what others think of you? And I mean, PLEASE chime in: my whole point is that I do care what you think. Or don't chime in. Your silence will teach me to look to other sources for validation.


Karin said...

I had to comment, even though it may or may not be so articulate. :-)

I have studied communication pretty hard for the last few years. We care what people think. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. We crave companionship, love, interdependence...relationships. We were not sent here to learn in a vacuum. We were sent here to learn among people who love and care about us. (and people who don't.)

I have been reading a book by Bruce Hafen that talks about an inborn yearning for connection. I really believe that we have that. We have been "gifted" that so that we can create and maintain relationships that teach us about the nature of God. Caring what other people think is part of that.

Words have power. You know that. "shooting from the hip" is not necessarily going to strengthen relationships. Thinking before you talk, considering the ramifications, and using "tact" certainly can strengthen and even heal relationships.

Words have the power to do that. If you have the heart. :-)

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I think the people who care too much about others' appraisals don't function very well in society, and those who don't care at all often don't function very well, either. The vast majority of us fall somewhere between those extremes. I fall closer to not caring, but there are still plenty of times when I wonder and wish.

I think it's very important to be aware of others' perceptions, but not let them cow us or sway us from taking action when it is needed. The LDS Church leaders are very careful about what they do and say, not because they fear unpopularity, but because they don't want an ill-phrased statement to be misunderstood and become an obstacle on someone's road Home.

Janssen said...

I care. It's so hard for me not to care. I worry and recheck, and fret and stew and make myself ill over what I think others might think.

Sherry said...

I care, especially when the person who is thinking about me is somebody that I love and respect.

I am less likely to care what people think about me if I happen to have little or no control over the trait (such as a physical characteristic. I am not going to dye my hair for anybody, except maybe the spouse, and besides - it's just hair). Or my voice. I have an annoying voice, but it's not really something I can control, so I try not to think about it, and I try extra hard not to ever hear a recording of myself.

I have come to care more (than when I was in high school, for instance) if people think I am rude or conceited or harsh. I want to be honest, but I also want to be approachable. I care if people think I talk too much or am too shy. If people think I am too nosy or too uninterested.

I want to be me, but if there are personal traits that I have that I can work on to make me a better person, I want to know that, and I want to work on those traits.

FoxyJ said...

I also care what people think of me and probably worry a little too much about how others are feeling how they react to my words. Part of this comes from growing up in a family of outspoken people and feeling a bit overwhelmed at times. I think there is a good middle balance--you don't want to be so outrageous that people are too distracted to listen, and yet you don't want to always defer to others. It can be hard to find that line.

Interestingly, the more time I spend online the more quiet and introspective I become. Especially with political issues and such. I've become much more choosy about who I share my opinions with and have learned to read situations where I just won't be heard.

emandtrev said...

I care, absolutely. I was a bit more feisty in my younger years than I am today. I was actually nominated for "most opinionated" during my senior year, but the title went to someone else. :)

I found that as I grew older, it cut me a little more deeply if I had a disagreement or misunderstanding with someone. I also found that I was turning much more to the Lord and the Gospel in those instances, because I didn't care as much about being right or spouting off or whatever the case may be. I hope that I'm now a better person for it. I care a lot about what other people think, but I also think/hope that I've become a lot better about letting things that bother me roll off. I still have an opinion, of course, but I've decided to choose some of my battles a little more carefully.

Just for the record, I think you are fabulous.

tamathy said...

I care. I worry and fret sometimes, but I've also learned to trust that I am likable. It is undeniable fact that there are many people who express love and concern for me and who go out of their way to spend time with me. Acknowledging that fact was a big step toward worrying less and just trusting that who I am is good enough.
Another important step was recognizing that some people just don't like me. They don't and they won't. We just don't match.
There have been people I've wanted to match up with, but I don't. That is a little painful and that's when I feel myself trying too hard- over thinking every word, repeating awkward conversations in my head, feeling like an idiot. But more and more I know when I feel that way that I need to let go. I can't make people like or understand me.

I still have to try- as we all do- to be decent and kind. I still have to care with people I match up with. But I can be myself. And that's the part I had to learn.

雅慧雅慧雅慧 said...

If the quantity is not a lot, I will hand carry..................................................

Caitlin said...

I am a people pleaser, that's my nature and it's how I was raised. Don't cause conflict. Period. I don't really have issues caring about the things I say, I am usually pretty neutral in conversation. But I care very much about what people think of the things I do or don't do. It's very hard for me to say no. Certain personality types (users) seem to hone in on this weakness and I get sucked into buying stuff I don't want, volunteering for things I don't have time for, and doing favors I don't want to do. The worst is babysitting and I always say yes, sometimes to the detriment of my family. I. Hate. It. It is one thing to trade, but another to be used as a daycare service for things like going to the store, attending a committee meeting, or having to "pack for vacation" (these are all reasons I have been given). Inconvenience doesn't warrant a babysitter, especially when you home school! OK-that was a little crazy. But I am afraid of what that person would think if I said no. Or potentially hurting someone's feelings if I don't buy something at their tupperware party. I am not sure what I am afraid of happening, but I am afraid nonetheless.

Desmama said...

I care, and I think in too many instances I care far too much. In my quiet moments I wish I could sometimes just spout off what I'm thinking, with a devil-may-care approach to it all, but I've found (through sad experience) that it rarely ends up with me feeling good and right about it all.

But I like what so many have said, that it's really a balance--figuring out where to speak and where to keep silence, and when I do speak, how to say things the right way. Speaking up is good when it's done right. The longer I live the more I'm convinced that you can do the right thing the wrong way.

Scully said...

I'm late to the party but better late than never, I guess. I spent most of my pre-teens, teens, and 20s caring very much what people thought and wishing very much that I didn't. I also spent a lot of time creating the 'Scully' I thought they would like, so I had about 5 different versions of myself wandering around and heaven help me if people who knew different versions ever ended up in the same room. But somewhere during the last few years it became less important. I think possibly I just got too exhausted from various difficulties and struggles to not be myself. And I started liking myself more. It still is a struggle, but now mostly in retrospect. I only worry after a social interaction about whether I was too much me for people to handle. And oddly, being called to be a Relief Society president has actually made me care less. I would have thought it would be the opposite. Maybe it is just that I'm 31, I'm LDS, and I'm single so no matter what people are going to judge so I might as well just be myself. And that was a long-winded non-answer. But that is how I always react to your posts, even though I don't comment most of the time. Your posts inspire a lot of introspection and personal exploration, which makes you a fantastic writer and why I always look forward to your blog posts.

kanaboke said...

Ditto to Scully, Caitlin, and Kimberly Bluestocking's last paragraph of her comment. The General Authoroties reall have a way of saying it like it is and yet not come across as offensive or is always amazing to me!!

Oh and I always care about what people think, but when I say/type something out of anger, I "care" just a little too late.