how not to care so much what other people think
“I think confidence is the way we meet our circumstances, whether they are wondrous and wonderful or really hard and difficult…It’s almost like a wholeheartedness, where we’re not holding back. We’re not fragmented. We’re not divided. We’re just going towards what’s happening. There’s an energy to it. I think that’s confidence. And it’s absolutely part of human fulfillment.” — Sharon Salzberg
Last night a close girlfriend and I went out to a little gallery on Melrose that was holding a fundraiser for Sandra Fluke in her run for state Senate.
Two young women – one of them Thora Birch of AMERICAN BEAUTY fame – gave speeches, intelligent, impassioned, thoughtful, informed speeches, and I thought again of this hunger that is out there for female role models who are not celebrated first and foremost for their hotness (or criticized for a supposed lack of).
The same friend and I had gone to hear Sandra speak at another event about a year ago. During the q + a someone asked how she felt about the vicious verbal attacks Rush Limbaugh and his ilk aimed at her when she spoke to the need for insurance companies to cover birth control.
Sandra expressed her relief that this particular spotlight had fallen on someone like her — with such a straight-arrow past that she literally had nothing to hide from the private investigators the Republicans hired to shame and discredit her — instead of someone who could truly get damaged. (“You,” one investigator told her, or something to this effect, “are one of the most boring people on the planet.” He meant it as a good thing.)
I liked this answer because it showed how Sandra recognized the impersonal nature of these very personal attacks. They weren’t going after her so much as what she stood for: the idea, or set of ideas, that she embodies.
She knows that those ideas are worth championing.
She is hooked into something bigger than herself.
I thought of Sandra when I went to hear Hillary Clinton speak at UCLA a few months ago. When her interviewer asked what Hillary’s advice would be to all the young people in the audience who want to change the world, Hillary spoke of the need for young women in particular to grow a very thick skin.
When you try to change the status quo, she said, you will get criticized, and sometimes even verbally attacked, by people whose primary goal is to make you sit down and shut up. (For women, these attacks still tend to circle in on appearance and sexuality.)
Male or female, though – unless we’re narcissistic or sociopathic – we generally want people to think well of us.
It’s easy to say you shouldn’t care what they think, but it’s harder to actually do that when the part of the brain that registers a social slight is the same part that registers a physical blow. We are social animals, and once upon a time isolation from the herd meant probable death. To lose approval in the eyes of others can be, to our ancient brain, as much of a survival threat as something crouching in the bushes to eat us.
We want to be liked.
Hell, we want to be loved.
The two are not the same.
The problem with like is that it is such a lukewarm word (unless you have a gift for likeability; Tom Hanks comes to mind). Like doesn’t tend to fire people up, compel or lead them.
Like doesn’t invent new things, or disrupt old things. Like doesn’t rock the boat. (Why would it? Some people would get wet, and then they might not like you. )
Simon Sinek explains that when we like something, we are operating out of the rational part of our brain.
Love, on the other hand, is deeper, more primal, pulsing in the part that deals with emotion.
Love drives us beyond the so-called rational.
Love drives out fear, including fear of change.
We’ll follow what we love to the ends of the earth. We’ll fight for what we believe in and what we hold dear. We’ll build a life around them.
Love is bigger than we are.
There can’t be love without hate. There’s nothing lukewarm about love: it blazes. You’re dealing with ideas that get under people’s skin, that challenge the way they see the world, the meaning they make of it.
You can’t stand for something without standing against something else.
In order to have believers, you have to have nonbelievers. Some of them will say anything to intimidate you — to make you sit down and shut up — so that their worldview reigns supreme.
In order not to care – in my humble opinion, anyway – you have to know what you stand for.
You have to know what you love.
Maybe it’s a cause, or a people, or your dog, or a movement, or an idea whose time has come. Maybe it’s something as stripped-down and vital as your right to be fully who and what you are, not defined by others. Whatever it is, you take it into you; its voice becomes your voice, it lives through you and connects to others who feel the same way. It takes your ego and subsumes it.
Which doesn’t mean that when the trolls and haters come out – and they will – and try to shout and shrink you down – and they will – it won’t hurt. It just means there’s something much bigger for you that remains when the hurt goes away. It redeems the burn through the meaning it gives it.
We live in a consumer culture. It encourages us to be small, to think only of our flaws and imperfections and what we can buy to ease our inadequacy.
But the self is not big enough to contain us.
To be perpetually self-conscious is to be anxious and miserable, trapped in the narrative in your head instead of engaged with the reality outside it. We need the world, we need love for something of the world so that we can lose ourselves in it and find ourselves through it.
When you know what you stand for, you know who you are.
When you tap into the power of that, whether people like you becomes irrelevant. (Which, ironically, makes people like you more.)
I stand for Sandra Fluke. She is awesome.