Our caring is the manifestation of our mental and emotional energy. It is a depleting resource. We become fixated on things we said, on not knowing an answer, or indulged in the menu of endless faux pas.
Meanwhile, research shows that people’s opinions of us don’t substantively impact our life. Yet we are enslaved and eager for approval. It’s a mask, a ghost of what really matters. We stress and go through great pains to ensure we say and do the right things.
What people think isn't always a chase
There’s a famous anecdote about Charlton Heston on the set of Planet of the Apes. He took a lunch break between scenes. As he entered the food area, he paused, perplexed by what he saw. All of the actors playing gorillas sat at one table, those playing chimps at another, and the ‘humans’ were at another. They’d self-segregated.
Scientists have long observed this “us vs them” instinct in humans and primates. The impulse goes to deep layers of our subconscious and can trigger over very subtle cues. More plainly, someone can dislike you and not even know why. You might remind them of an ex. Your name might trigger a bad memory. Your eyes might remind them of an untrustworthy person they knew. There are a bunch of reasons that arent’ actually related to you.
When I was at the dog park with my pooch, I noticed dogs generally had one of three reactions to each other. When sniffing each other’s butts, they either moved on indifferently, tried to hump, or, unfortunately, would occasionally attack the other dog. There was never a reason. It seemed completely random and chaotic. And I’m not sure humans are much different.
A person’s opinion of you is often determined with a random number generator. So don’t take it too personally.
It's not always about you
I’ve had anonymous internet users write 2000 word responses to my 1000 word article. They lectured me on the nature of my flawed opinion, of my deficient cognitive ability, and worse. I’ve been writing on the internet for a long time and I stopped caring about these comments a long time ago.
What does get attention isn’t this user's comment, but why he was so caught up? Why are people writing essays raising gripes about a small point on my post on an obscure blog in the outlands of the internet?
In psychotherapy, you are taught that people’s cutting reactions are often about something inside of them. There is a failing, insecurity, a crude memory, that is boiling up and spewing forth. So when we get blasted by someone s out of the blue, it’s best to just understand there is usually more to it. There’s no reason to let it ruin your day.
When dealing with trolls, in life and online, I’ve always reconciled this person doesn’t control my access to oxygen or my ability to eat. Why am I worried about it? They’ll forget who I am within a few days anyway.
It’s as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.”
A Solution to Your Existential Dread
I come from a religious family and there is no small amount of pressure on me to have a more formal theistic commitment. I struggled with religion and the countless, easy-to-spot hypocrisies. Namely, I couldn’t reconcile this idea that for one religion to be right, all others had to be wrong. I’d met so many amazing people from interesting belief systems. How could a kind and loving God condemn so many good people to eternal suffering? And what of the people on islands who have no contact with missionaries?
My existential angst ended with the vow that I would, to the best of my ability, live a kind and just life. And if there was a god out there who deemed that wasn’t enough, I was willing to accept that. This resignation gave me this sense of solitude, that I should try to be a good person, regardless of an unseeing figure’s determination. In turn, I stopped caring about religion in general, be it mine or anyone else’s. Little did I know, I’d become a follower of an informal belief system: apatheism. It’s the lack of concern over whether there is or isn’t a god, and what other people’s opinions are on the subject.
It gave me a sense of freedom from religious judgment, by humans, or gods. We tend to associate apathy with slacker students and disconnected humans. In reality, most of us are too wired in. We are ramped up and overstimulated.
There is beauty in learning to loosen your grip on life, in accepting that some people won’t like you, that life can’t go on forever. We tend to create problems by overextending our sense of control. We aren’t entitled to every answer about life. I’ve learned to chill and enjoy the ride more.
Remember, your caring is your life’s energy. Reserve it for things that bring positivity back into your life.
Recap for memory
Accept that some people won't like you. Their reasoning won’t always have a rhyme or reason. And, more importantly, it won’t actually impact your life.
Criticisms and attacks often originate from something in the attacker. Humans are flawed, cracked beings. And their opinion doesn’t usually matter.
Accept that you can’t know everything. Ignorance of life’s great mysteries can be a virtue. Enjoy the short time you have.
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