What we do in the privacy often differs greatly from what we do in public. Regardless of claims that we are all somehow immune and do not care what others think about us, we each are impacted by what others think and how they interact and react to us.
For this reason, we spend a lot of time and energy teaching and learning better ways to communicate.
We learn to read, write and speak in school, at trainings, from our parents and relatives. We are coached and coach others about the best ways to approach someone when requesting information, applying for jobs, or asking for a date.
So the first challenge I think we all have to communicate better with one another is to quit lying to ourselves. When we say, “I don’t care what anyone thinks,” we are lying to ourselves and to whomever we are speaking. We care. We may care at varying degrees about what others think about us in different situations, but we do care.
Once that is accepted, the next step is to determine why we care and to what degree we care. For example, when an administrator comes into my classroom, I care about what the administrator sees and how the administrator evaluates my performance and the impact I have made on each student’s performance. I care because that evaluation will most likely go in my employee file and contribute to whether or not my contract is renewed.
When I dress for dinner at a nice restaurant, I will dress up, and when I am going to a fast food restaurant, I do not worry about what I am wearing so long as I am dressed and do not stink.
In each of these situations, I have a level of care about what others think and how they react to me in public places. For work, I want my boss to give me a good evaluation so I keep my job. At the nice restaurant, I care about matching the level of decor and the likely dress expectations of the restaurant, where most people will be dressed in their nicer outfits. At the fast food restaurant, I want to make sure I am decent and that others are not assaulted by bad body odor.
While these social norms impact many of my choices, they do not change who I am internally so that I am what many, including myself, deem as being on of the “sheople.”
I can recognize and adapt to social norms consciously, without being an unthinking follower. The problem arrives when I spend so much time worrying about how others will perceive me that I end up missing out on the moment I have prepared for or that I am in. This is when we get in our own way.
One example is stage fright. In these situations, the fear felt on stage becomes greater than the reason why one is on stage. I tell my students to focus on the subject of the talk not the subjects listening to the talk. Once on stage, the content has to take precedent, and the audience and even the speaker should take a backseat to the message.
Delivery, content structure and the rest should be practiced and prepared before the presentation, and then at the moment of the presentation, one has to be in the moment and share the content. The rest will or will not take care of itself, but if fear presents itself in the presentation, it takes away from the content.
I think this is a great way to think about why we say we don’t care. That phrase, “I don’t care,” is fear presenting itself in the moment, It is a way to deflect a truth, such as “I can’t do anything to change it now, so I don’t care anymore.”
Most of the time, when we say we do not care, we are really saying we have no control and we have to let it go. But when we do that too often, we tend to begin to use it as a crutch to stop trying to avoid thinking about the degree to which we do care.
We let ourselves off the hook on a social level, acknowledging that we are social creatures, and that social interaction is important, and a level of conformity can be useful for us.
For example, I am taking yoga classes, and the students all follow the yoga instructor. On one level, my independent spirit wants to break the routine, but the self-control required by the class challenges me to think with more purpose.
Another example is with writing poetry. My preference is free verse, because it is limitless, but I am unable to challenge my own limits with free verse. However, writing structured poems mean one must remain within the limits, which poses more of a challenge and stretches the boundaries of my abilities in ways that could not stretch on my own.
Caring about what people think is similar to writing form poetry or maintaining control in certain environments for a particular purpose or outcome.
I know that going against the norm can be a good thing, but a rebel without a cause has no direction, a can carelessly harm him or herself in a society where our actions, however free they may be, have consequences that we cannot ignore. For that reason, we should care what others think to some degree depending on the situation, making decisions with purpose, showing ourselves and others that we are thinking, or mindfull, individuals who admittedly care about ourselves, the world around us, and the living creatures that inhabit this word.