“The opinion of others is no more than the opinion of others,” said American psychologist Wayne Dyer. Why is that opinion so important to us and what can you do to be less driven by it? Humans are herd animals and ‘belonging’ has traditionally been a survival mechanism. As a hunter-gatherer it was essential not to be expelled from the group, your chances of survival were severely limited. That survival mechanism is now getting in our way. Today, being kicked out of the group is no longer life-threatening. It is, however, a threat to your personality. Outcasts can start to doubt themselves, become insecure, and even depressed or suicidal. We sometimes seem to exist by the grace of others.
But what we forget is that the opinion of others is neither more nor less than the limitation of others. A person finds something based on what he or she has experienced and learned in life. So based on the past. Past experiences become the filters with which reality is colored. That past is by definition limited. When do you stop adjusting your life to the limitations of other people? Take a random person in your head. Just imagine how this person grew up, what he or she went through, and what he or she may have developed based on these experiences and the beliefs, fears, and ideas that arise as a result.
Now, look at you through that person’s eyes. Do you see that this person can never really form a good picture of you? Only the parts of you that he or she has something to do with from the past are perceived, the rest are not. The person, therefore, has a very limited image of you. Suppose this person would think something of you, it would be based on these limitations.
“We don’t see others as they are, we see others as we are.”
And if you look one layer deeper, something even more interesting happens. People are each other’s mirrors. We see our own flaws and achievements in others. Someone who looks at you sees himself. Indians knew these thousands of years ago. From them comes the saying:
“When you point at someone else, three fingers point back at yourself.”
We see ourselves in each other. When we irritate or judge someone, they are mirroring parts of ourselves that we haven’t accepted, are ashamed of, or unconsciously don’t want. An example of this is a meticulously groomed businesswoman who is annoyed by her sleazy neighbor. She points out annoyed, so three fingers point back.
But what can that be that reflects? She’s very neat, isn’t she? The underlying layer may well be that the businesswoman subconsciously cares what others think of her and the irritation is actually directed at this part of herself. The neighbor is free in this area and does not have to dress up to impress others and this confronts the well-groomed woman with her own fear of rejection by others.
If you see something in another that you have compassion for, by the way, then you have that part too, but you have accepted that part of yourself. In summary: irritation, when you look at another, means that there is something in yourself that demands attention and may be resolved and compassion when you look at another means that you have had something that has now been overcome. You can only see in the other what is in you. When you have this insight, it becomes amusing when others annoy you or admire you. In doing so, they show a part of themselves. It says 3x more about them than it does about you.
‘Everything we say to another, we ultimately say to ourselves.’
Now you can start using others (respectfully) as a dashboard. Who are the people you are mad at, and who do you judge? What irritates or disappoints you? And what does that say about you? These people are actually your greatest teachers, they mirror parts of you that you have unconsciously put away and that you would rather not be confronted with. Parts that you are not aware of at all, but that other people do see in you. The other way around, it also works that the people you admire or look up to reflect something in you that may be there. ‘Your outer world is a reflection of your inner world’
How do you deal with the opinions of others now?
1. Realize that you are the mirror for the other, they mainly see themselves and only partly you
2. Check with yourself what you do for the approval of others, try to let go of those things
3. Check with yourself what you leave for the approval of others, try to do those things right (as long as they don’t harm anyone)
But above all: stand in your own strength. Life is really too short to leave it to the approval of others. A shame, a deadly waste of the sparse time you have. Follow your heart and go for it. You don’t have to be guided by the limitations of your fellow human beings, it’s bad enough that they let themselves be guided by them. And important: don’t try to steer others yourself with your limitations and let your judgments on them. And if you do have an opinion about someone? Then you know that there are three fingers pointing at yourself.