One of the (haunting) questions that often influences or controls our actions is, “What will others think or say of us?”
This is especially true for collectivist societies such as India. Societal pressure often overrides the individual choices. While it is true that we are social animals and cannot live on our own, too much of societal burden can lead to disastrous consequences where an individual may feel threatened to varying degree.
How do we deal with it? Some philosophers have provided the answer.
- Our feelings are important, but so is the truth: We spend a lot of our time waiting for others to acknowledge our efforts, accomplishments, appearance etc, and quite often we fear their judgements on all these aspects of our lives. But does their comment really change anything? Philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “Your decency does not depend on the testimony of else. Does what is praised become better, or become worse if it is not praised?”
- Human behaviour is full of errors and judgements: Aristotle noted that people prefer to go to extremes and a lot of times put labels on others for their own convenience. Remember most of people’s claims are exaggerated opinions. For instance, lack of courage is considered cowardice and excess of it is considered rashness. One can rarely strike a fine balance there. You will have to acknowledge that and move on.
- People go by tradition and not reason: French writer Nicolas Chamfort wrote, “The most absurd customs and the most ridiculous ceremonies are everywhere excused by an appeal to the phrase — but that’s the tradition.” Others will always judge you by their own worldview which is usually limited in many ways. Give them the benefit of their limits.
- If you think it through, you’ll be liberated from the burden: Look how carefully people think — not only about you, but in general. And you will notice that they don’t. In the words of Schopenhauer, “We will gradually become indifferent to what goes on in the minds of other people when we acquire an adequate knowledge of the superficial and futile nature of their thoughts, of the narrowness of their views, of the paltriness of their sentiments, of the perversity of their opinions… “
It is worth remembering that other people’s heads are too wretched a place for your true happiness to have its seat. Don’t kill yourself unnecessarily with what others expect of you. Life is too precious for such misadventures.