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O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!
(Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.)
- Robert Burns, poet (1759-1796)
Quite apart from the shock some might get from seeing how much spelling of English words has changed from the time of Burns until now (despite the fact that he spells according to his Scottish accent), the wish expressed doesn’t apply to everyone.
Some people don’t want to know how others see them because they don’t care. They are, they believe, as close to perfection as they can get. Arrogant and self absorbed, maybe, but that’s how they are.
Some don’t want to know how others see them because they fear what they might learn about themselves. They tend to hide from that reality and pretend a different one.
Many people care very much how others see them. Not only do they assess their own worth according to the opinions others have about them, they feel crushed when they learn that someone doesn’t like them. Or when someone whose opinion differs from theirs defends their own as if no other opinion is important or relevant, they lose their sense of the value of their own opinion.
In a world where almost everyone cares more about themselves than they do about anyone else, it can be risky to depend on the opinions of others about us as true indicators of our self worth. By nature and definition, anyone who cares more about themselves than about anyone else will want to evaluate anyone else at a lower level them themselves. They will be incapable of evaluating others fairly.
It’s self destructive to pay attention to anyone’s opinion about ourselves if that person always puts themselves first.
We need at least to have some people think well of us in order to have them as friends and loved ones. As social beings who need both social contact with others of our own kind and touch from those we love and who love us, living a well balanced life requires some people to like us enough to provide for our needs as we would provide for theirs.
We need touch as much as we need shelter and clothing. Without it we turn to other forms of gratification, including seeking power and money, abuse of others who are weaker, buying what we like to excess, becoming workaholics and adopting addictions or thrill-seeking habits that border on addiction.
What a few others think of us is extremely important for the continuation of good relationships with them. But it’s not necessary that everyone like us. Burns wanted to know how others think of him, but he didn’t say that he would turn himself inside out if he didn’t like what they thought.
The opinions of some people about us--indeed of most people--simply don’t matter. Nor should they. We have no need to live our lives to please any more than a few others, those who matter most to us.
There are times when we may need others to oppose us and make critical statements about our work. An artist, for example, does work of little value if everyone likes it. If everyone likes a work, that means that all or almost all care little about it but want to spare the feelings of the author of the work. The artist needs some opposition in order to grow, opposition against which to build something new, to expand horizons, to climb higher, to become more skilled.
Without that opposition, the artist may believe that he has reached his peak and go downhill from there. He lacks incentive to better his work without opposition.
That much applies to every one of us who greatly respects ourselves. If everyone likes us, then no one cares much about us. An example would be the roadies or groupies that follow rock groups or fan clubs of movie stars. Their affections evaporate with the first or second major failure of their idols.
To have a clear sense of self worth and a good idea of our strengths and weaknesses, we need to have others who will tell us straight what they think about our work. And sometimes about ourselves. It may be harsh, but it’s necessary.
No one climbs a mountain if it’s coated with cotton balls and kitten fluff.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach children what they need to know about themselves and how they can grow strong and healthy in a balanced way to become competent and confident adults.
Learn more at http://billallin.com