“The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Whoever will be born must destroy a world.” Herman Hesse
Every time I pitch my theory about the freedom of not caring what people think it gets smashed with the same swing,
“You need to care what other people think, if you want to survive in society.”
It’s a good swing. It gets the whole theory and sends it out of play. It may be nice to not care what people think, it may even be a path to enlightenment, but you will end up with no friends and no job, so it’s not exactly practical.
But, recently I realized a saving twist.
You can survive in society while not caring what other people think about you. The secret is to cut out the ‘what other people think of you’, and just care.
You shouldn’t care what other people think, but you should care about other people. You may need a minute to think about this and let it really sink in how unbelievably freeing this is.
It even fits in with all the major philosophical and religious theories. First you deny yourself/your ego (aka what other people think of you) and then you need to love. It is beautiful, simple, and incredibly freeing!
But, let’s back up a few steps. I mentioned a theory in the introductory sentence.
My theory is that even if they don’t realize it, most people’s decisions are based on what other people think, that living life this way puts you in a cage, and that there is a real and practical way to get out of this cage.
Several years ago, I clearly remember telling people that one of my strongest attributes was I didn’t care what other people thought about me. I didn’t wear fashionable clothes, had no desire to own a nice car, and pretty much walked my own path.
Then I noticed a patch of thinning hair on my head and all my confidence came crashing down. I learned the hard way that I did care about what people thought of me. I just happened to think that people thought I was awesome.
I wasn’t walking around thinking, “he thinks I’m awesome, and she thinks I’m awesome, and you think I’m awesome, etc.” It was part of who I was. I was looking in the mirror and seeing the way I thought other people saw me.
When the way I thought other people saw me changed, because of my thinning hair, I stopped walking confidently and became socially anxious, and it is very clear to a socially anxious person that the world of what you think other people are thinking is a cage.
I say ‘what you think other people are thinking’, because you can’t possibly know what other people are thinking. It is in your imagination. The cage is the imaginary world you create where everyone thinks you’re smart, beautiful, funny, dumb, ugly or boring.
This cage gets stronger the longer you live in it. You believe that other people are judging you (positively or negatively) based on your values, and as you perceive other people liking or not liking you based on your values, your values become stronger.
As a result, it may take something more persuasive than this article to convince you that my theory is right.
Almost every leader in the search for peace reports an experience of brokenness before the release into freedom, from Pema Chodron to Ekhart Tolle to Herman Hesse, and each of them tell of a journey from the imagination to the real.
For Chodron it was a divorce, ““I didn’t realize how attached I was to having… somebody else confirm me as being OK.”
For Tolle it was an acute depression that lead to the realization that the I and the self are two separate entities.
For Hesse it was the pressure to live up to his father’s ideals and be accepted by him.
Another similarity between people who have discovered this truth is that it takes some time and work to put your desire to be highly thought of behind a love for other people. For me, this battle is ongoing, but I have found several truths to help me on my journey.
1 – Thinking about the way you look means you are worrying about what people think of you.
You can’t see yourself. As soon as you have a mental picture of yourself, you must be thinking about how other people see you.
At first I couldn’t accept this truth. I thought that if I didn’t think about my physical appearance I would soon become shabby and unemployable, but this thought quickly proved to be false.
Confidence stemming from the knowledge of who you are, plus a caring disposition, overrides everything. It is apparent to everyone.
This is probably something you need to try to truly believe, but it works. People will come up to you and ask what is different about you. I don’t know too much about chakras and energy, but I guarantee that people can sense it when you exude love and caring.
2 – A judgmental attitude is an indicator that you are fighting reality.
This goes back to your thoughts about other people reflecting your own values. If you are thinking about how a person is being a poser or trying too hard, you are probably the one who is doing it.
Just as you can’t know what other people are thinking about you, you can’t know what they are thinking about themselves or what is happening in their lives. It is purely imaginary and your judgements are hurting you as much as them.
Judgements are a wall to reality. The only truth is that everyone is a beautiful human being like you. Some of them have fallen into the same traps you are trying to escape from.
3 – When you are free everything looks beautiful.
This is the flip side of truth number two. I imagine it is the view that inmates have of the world when they are released from prison or a baby bird’s view after breaking from its shell.
When ‘who you are’ is defined by an imaginary idea of what other people think of you, the world is an unstable place. If you blood sugar gets low or you have a bad day your imagination will get dark, turn on some good music and boost your spirits, and everyone thinks you are awesome again.
The freedom of reality is stunning. You see people walking around lost in their own worlds and you just want to help them out. Your thought process is so much less encumbered and you can see intricacies you never knew existed.
It is beautiful!
4 – Don’t worry be happy.
These immortal words by Bob Marley are far deeper than I ever realized. Think about it : If you are worried you can’t be happy, and if you are happy you can’t be worried.
The art of not caring what other people think is not just rescued by love, love is the key.
If you love the world, the people around you, and your place in it, you can’t be worrying about what other people are thinking, and if you are wrapped up in what other people think of you, the best you can do is love an imaginary scenario where it is all about you.
Can you imagine a world where on a gorgeous summer day you bring speakers out onto your front lawn, crank the music, turn on the sprinklers, dance your face off, belt out the chorus, attempt and fail backflip after backflip, and feel absolutely no shame?
I am sure everyone has their own private version of that scenario…
Whatever your dream is, it is a picture of freedom. Life would clearly be more fun if we did not need to carry the shackles of the judgement of others.
Starting January 5th, 2017 Greg Kamphuis is live journaling 40 days with out any unnatural dopamine (alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, TV, nicotine, porn) on his website – The Dopamine Challenge