Don’t care what other people think! That is a statement I’m sure we’ve heard or been told at some point in our lives. It’s even a statement I have encountered quite often in a lot of personal development books I have listened to. It is easy to say and hard to do.
Thing is, I don’t necessarily think that is true. I also don’t think it is entirely possible. If you are human, and have a heart, you will care at some time or other.
I would assume that the people saying that statement also care. At least a little. If it’s a statement you read or heard in a very popular book by a popular author do you not think they would care if no one had bought that book? If you are spending all that time, and effort, into creating something, something that obviously means a lot to you, surely you have to care how it is received to a certain degree.
Of course it is true that generally people might not care about what you do as we don’t think outside ourselves most of the time. We are inherently selfish after all. We filter everything through our own thoughts.
I don’t think it is a case of not caring what other people think. I think it is more a case of knowing when to care and when not to. Even this is hard to do.
Most of us would care about what a family member or loved one thinks of the thing we are doing, the way we behave, the way we live our life. If they disagree with us, disagree with what we are doing, even and especially when it is something close to our hearts, we are going to care. We might fight back against their idea, or belief. We might disagree with what they think. But we still care. We might even take it as a personal attack. An insult to the person we are.
However, if it is just some random stranger, an acquaintance, a work colleague, and they are saying how that thing you like doing is a waste of time. Like telling an artist their artwork is terrible, or a poet that their poems are pathetic. Then it is easier not to care. We can rationalise that away. We could tell ourselves that they don’t know what they are talking about. That it’s not like they are experts in that field. That they only have an uneducated opinion which could be based on a number of things, possibly jealousy.
I guess how much we care depends on the nature of our relationship with that person. As I said it’s easier not to care about what a stranger thinks or says but not so easy when it is someone close to us. It’s the people closest to us that can hurt us the most after all.
Deciding when to care or not is a difficult thing to do. There is certainly freedom if you can reach that state of mind where you truly don’t care. The great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is even quoted as saying: “Care what other people think and you will always be their prisoner”.
But then we have the metaphysical English poet John Donne with his infamous “no man is an island” quote which implies that despite our inherent selfishness and perspective we are still a part of a bigger whole, a society, a world. Surly to be a part of that world you have to care at some time or other. If no one really cared anarchy and destruction would rule.
People like to pretend they don’t care. They might even say it. I’ve said it myself at times. But is that true? If you’ve ever said it did you not reflect on that moment later? The moment that led to those words coming out of your mouth. In truth, I know I did. In reality, what I said wasn’t always true.
I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as not caring what other people think. I think we have to choose our cares wisely. Choose when to care and when not to. Choose when caring or not will work against us or be in our own best interests. There is no ‘one size fits all’ answer or convenient quotable soundbite. Only you can know which is best for you and when.