I have this friend who keeps asking me what I think of him. Do you think I’m egotistical? I really don’t want you to see me that way. Does it seem like I’m a bully? I don’t want people to think I’m a bully.
I can be this way, too. Concerned, moment by moment, with what someone else thinks of me. Especially with men back before I covertly snared J and could finally stop wondering if this man thought I was sexy or that man thought I was obnoxious.
Now, I just do it with friends. They haven’t asked us over in a while. It’s my fault. They hate me. I’m pretty sure I offended her. Did you see that look on her face? She thinks I’m weird because I asked for her number. Like I want to date her but I just want to hang out.
Usually when this happens, I dissolve into a special kind of self hatred. I don’t sit on the floor of the closet crying and hugging Howard, a giant stuffed giraffe that hides among my hats and bags. Like, never. Nope. I just blame myself. I feel fully responsible not only for how shitty I feel, but also for how the other person seems to feel – real or imagined.
Okay, maybe just that one time. But I’d had wine and Howard is very soft and fuzzy and comforting.
It’s like I believe I’m this magical wizard capable of causing a negative (always negative) emotion in another human at any time. What a gift! That person isn’t responsible for how he feels, I am! I did this to him. I made him think I’m weird. I made her think I’m a bully. And someone thinking something about me I don’t believe to be true is the end of the end. The other person seeing me poorly is reality, not my own.
But I might be evolving.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Just the other day, we were out with a group of friends. I disagreed with one of them on a subject in which she believes herself an expert. She raised her voice and copped an attitude and I relented, not wanting to further the conflict. It didn’t matter anyhow.
This time, something different happened. Instead of crucifying myself and deciding she hated me and thought I was an idiot (which she may), I took just a few moments to ponder how I felt about the situation. Right after it happened. For possibly the first time. Ever.
I decided I didn’t like her response and don’t feel it was justified. Some of that wasn’t my stuff. I decided whether she thinks I’m an idiot or not is immaterial. I decided that it’s a subject I may want to avoid with her in the future. I wish I understood this dynamic from the getgo, but sometimes I’m kind of an idiot.
I decided I didn’t behave badly, as my momentary self believed. Sure, I kind of misjudged a statement and a relationship, but I feel no shame for what I said. I forgave myself for not quite understanding things because what the hell? I’m learning how to be a normal human, just like everyone everywhere. And I didn’t even think about Howard that night.
So back to my concerned friend from the beginning of this story. He asked again what I thought of him recently. I told him it doesn’t matter. Does he know he’s a good person? Does he know he’s not a bully? Does he like himself enough to accept that regardless of what anyone else thinks, if he behaves as he chooses to behave – regardless of opinions or negative outcomes – he’s going to do a much better job at being the person he wants to be than he would if I said he seemed like a bully with an inferiority complex.
And I’m right. It’s what I evolved to realize with my group of friends that day.
Here’s what I finally understand.
- We must define our values – the things that are fundamentally important to us. Honesty, curiosity, creativity, whatever. Up to 10 rules we live by, as people of the world. Things that form the foundation of who we are.
- We must make decisions based on these values. The careers we choose, the company we keep, the shows we watch, the pages we follow, the books we read. And avoid red herrings that conflict with those values.
- We must trust ourselves and these values. If we focus on them instead of others’ perceptions and ideas and expectations, we might actually craft more fulfilling lives.
- They have to be OUR values, not those of the person we’re trying to influence.
And if someone wants to cast us aside because we behaved in a way that aligns with the deepest truth we believe, maybe it’s okay if we let him drift away. No matter how popular he is or influential he is or how much we wanted his high regard in the first place. Unless one of our values is “make nice nice with powerful people”, we don’t need him to live our best lives.