13 Jan Why DO You Care What Other People Think?
I don’t grapple with this question a lot, but when I do, it frustrates me.
I want to talk about this with a quick reading from the Huffington Post (I know, I know…). Really, it’s a quick reading from a reputable psychologist and academic, about the nature and necessity of community. We can all just pretend that it came to us by a channel that isn’t presently obsessed with Selena Gomez in a thong.
Why Do You Care What Other People Think?
01/20/2015 11:06 am ET | Updated Mar 22, 2015
You think about it when you get dressed in the morning, when you choose a profession, when you choose a partner. Let’s face it: It’s hard not to make a decision without taking into consideration what other people might think.
You say you don’t care, but deep down, you do… while feeling awful about it.
Don’t worry: you’re not alone, and you’re not to blame. Why we care about what other people think, goes way back in mankind’s history.
Since primitive times, humans have relied on relationships to survive (1). If a man or woman was accepted into a tribe, then he or she had a greater chance of living to see another day. The person who was cast out from the group would most likely not have survived the primitive world on his own.
As a result, no matter how evolved we are as a species, the individual’s need for acceptance and social approval is a residue of our primitive lives. Therefore, while you may be able to survive on your own in modern-day life, biologically, you are compelled to fit in. Your tribal ancestry encourages you to depend on members of the tribe for both collaboration and agreement on social norms and accepted rules of behavior. The price for civilization is community. A sense of “sameness” allows you to feel safe against the threats of physical and emotional annihilation, if you can feel a part of a similar group, with similar values and similar mores. Thus, our unconscious drive to exist moves us toward the need for acceptance..
This innate feeling of fear of annihilation may be one of the reasons you feel uncomfortable going out alone to a restaurant or concert, and why parents groom and culturalize their children to fit in to their “tribe” norms. In fact, good self-esteem and security are all wrapped up in the desire to be liked and accepted.
And so, you choose the safe side, the “correct” side of religion, politics, relationships, careers — all to be admitted to your modern day tribe. You care deeply about what others think, because the primitive human within is still fighting to survive.
However, you no longer need your tribe to physically survive in the modern world. So now that you know why you care so much about what other people think, how can you break these ancient and primal chains of conformity? In my next blog post, I will share some tips for establishing individuation and finding your sense of self.
(1) Reference: Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas by Mike McRae
I stumbled across this article while I was reading something about a favorite book of mine, What Do You Care What Other People Think? by Richard Feynman. It was given to me by a favorite design professor of mine at SVA, with whom I spent a lot of time talking about what I perceived as my mediocrity as a designer. She was careful never to lie to me or cheer me on when I was doing shitty work, but to redirect the conversation to this idea of ‘what difference does it make what other people are doing?‘ Or more importantly, ‘what difference does it make to what you’re doing, what other people think of it?‘
I’ve thought about those questions a lot since design school, and I don’t think I’ve ever come up with any good answers to them. But that’s usually the point of rhetorical questions anyway; they’re not meant to be answered.
Whenever I’m having days where I don’t feel particularly special or significant, and especially when I’m envious of someone else’s perceived success, I try to reign in those feelings by asking what they’re really about. And whose opinion it is that I’m concerned with? People on twitter?
I’m fortunate in so many ways – I do exactly what I want to do for a living, and I get to write about and say whatever I want about my experiences or things that interest me here. And people read it and say kind things back to me or discuss with me issues that I’ve deemed important. That’s magical and phenomenally fulfilling!
So why am I still worried what other people think?
I think there’s some merit to what Dr. Gross has laid out here, about tribal relationships being at the core of our need to ‘fit in’ and be accepted. But as I get older, I’m less and less interested in assimilating with what my peers are doing or saying, or with gay culture (my ‘tribe’)/society in general (see my admission of being a ‘bad gay’ here). But this notion of what “other people” (even and sometimes especially strangers!) think about me and what I do, doesn’t seem to be diminishing any. Why is that? Why am I even slightly worried what people on the internet think of me?
Is it just age? Am I just too young to truly have reached the point where I’m sufficiently disinterested in the opinions of others? I know that age happens to men. I know those guys exist. At least I think they do. I see them in the locker room, or bear or leather bars. They’re strong and confident and inhabit their bodies fully and fill their space completely. They’re the men I aspire to be eventually.
But it seems to be taking a long time to get there. And in the meantime, I’m still worried what other people think sometimes. Not all the time. Or even often. But once it gets in there, it’s tough to shake.
And I don’t totally know why it matters to me.
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