Continuing our discussion of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlor. If this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the college. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent, for they are timid, as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.”
You can’t avoid it – other people aren’t going to like it when you are different from the herd. There’s gonna be pushback – sometimes a whole lot of pushback.
And let’s be honest – it can hurt. Most people who say that they don’t care what other people think of them are either lying or not very self-aware. It’s built into our DNA to care what others think. It takes real practice to be free from the tyranny of other people’s opinions.
I’ve been watching a television show called “Catastrophe“. In one scene, a main character goes to dinner with an old boyfriend behind her current boyfriend’s back. She admits to it, and her current boyfriend asks if she still has feelings for him. “Oh, God No!” she says. “I just wanted him to still like me.”
“I get it,” he says. “I’ve got a Facebook account.”
This one really struck me, because I recently went dark on both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’m not saying that they don’t have their uses – but when the main purpose is self validation, and we find ourselves obsessing about what others think of our lives (or our blog posts, as a completely made up, random example) rather than using them to get information, share our gifts, and really connect with people… maybe it’s time to take a break.
We aren’t looking for perfection here, but maybe just a bit of working on unhooking from the opinion of others, no matter how dire their faces or excited in their praise they are, will go a long way towards helping us become who we want to be.