Come on now, be yourself!I have always more or less marched to the beat of my own drummer, more so in my advancing years. With that concession, I admit that in my formative years I often fell into the trap of trying to impress people by pretending to be something that I was not, or conducting myself in ways that were unnatural and uncomfortable. I am sure that there will be readers who know whereof I speak.
There is a need in all of us to impress and to be liked. Let’s face it, most of us are guilty of doing things that we do not want to do, or don’t do things that we want to do because we are afraid of what others might think or say about us.
Seeking approval from others is perfectly fine up to the point where you are compromising your health and happiness in the process, sacrificing personal wants, needs and desires. It becomes a serious problem if you feel as though widespread positive approval from others is the very oxygen you need to breathe.
The bottom line is that constant approval-seeking forces you to miss out on the beauty of simply being yourself, with your own unique ideas and desires. If you are led through life only doing and being what you’ve come to believe is expected of you, then, in a way, you cease to live.
What I am discussing here has been described as “worshipping the god of other people’s opinion.” We sacrifice much for such ill-conceived, ungodly worship.
Charles Dudley Warner once said that “public opinion is stronger than the legislature and nearly as strong as the Ten Commandments.”
“Truth is one forever absolute,” wrote Wendell Phillips, “but opinion is truth filtered through the moods, the blood, and the disposition of others.” It should be emphasized, however, that if one’s faith in self is strong, the opinion of others is not as influential. I’ll substantiate that point in a minute…
One of my favorite iconic deep thinkers on this subject was Henry David Thoreau who is quoted as saying “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion…What a man thinks of himself, that is what determines, or rather, indicates, his fate.” Thoreau, a pioneer in transcendentalism, encouraged others to assert their individuality, each in his or her own way. When neighbors talked of emulating his lifestyle, he was dismayed rather than flattered.
“I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account,” he said. “For myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbor's instead. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do…We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the true course.”
Thoreau also maintained that “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Whenever quoting Thoreau, one must quote Ralph Waldo Emmerson: “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of a crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
Of course, if you live in the freedom of your own thoughts and desires, you must give the same freedom to others. We do well to learn to accept the behavior of others that does not fit the pattern of our own opinions. Whenever we find ourselves disapproving of another, we should be reminded that opinion is merely opinion, not truth, and therefore not worth getting upset about.
Others’ opinions of you and your opinions of others are the cause of a great deal of unnecessary negative thinking. In “You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought, a book for people with any life-threatening illness – including life,” John-Roger and Peter McWilliams emphasize that we should learn to relish the differences between people. Imagine how dull the world would be if we all thought, spoke and acted the same.
“It were not best that we should all think alike,” Mark Twain tells us. “It is difference of opinion that makes horse races.”
This is all by way of saying that we should applaud freedom wherever it may surface. Learn to praise idiosyncrasies, the eccentricities, the quirks and the singularities of others…It will help praise our own.
And while we’re at it…
Not completely changing the subject, but when you need advice, who better to listen to than someone older and wiser. No matter your age -- old or young -- time always brings a unique perspective on the way we should have done things.
In an endearing video, CBC Radio recently asked people of all ages -- some as young as seven and some as old as 93 -- to share their one best piece of advice for a person just a year younger. The brutally honest responses were both charming and wise, covering everything from love and relationships, to money and career, to finding your confidence.
Here are just a few of the best pieces of advice:
- A 47-year-old. “Stop caring so much about what people think. They're not thinking about you at all.”
- A 48-year-old, “A midlife crisis does not look good.”
- A 51-year-old, “Always tell the truth (except in your online dating profile).”
- An 85-year-old, “Spend all your money, or your kids will do it for you.”
- A 93-year-old, "Don't listen to other people's advice. Nobody knows what the hell they're doing.”