I may have mentioned before that I am a bit neurotic. One of my most prevalent neurosis is that I care entirely too much what other people think of me. I’ve come a long way and I no longer let my fear of rejection and judgement guide my decisions or prevent me from being myself, but still it persists. I have a visceral reaction to feeling under the microscope and, if I don’t actively work to stop myself I will become obsessed. And because we, as humans, tend to take things personally and see ourselves as the center of things I have these reactions at times when things aren’t even directed at me. For example when someone posts a link on Facebook or makes a comment on a blog that contradicts my opinions and beliefs I experience the same physical reaction I have when someone directly tells me I’m wrong.
I used to push back against my own reactions by trying to argue with my perceived opponent. I felt that if I could just give them all of the information they would be able to see things my way. I realize in retrospect it had very little to do with whatever issue we might be debating and a lot to do with my ego. It wasn’t that I couldn’t stand to be wrong; I couldn’t stand for someone else to THINK I was wrong because it might diminish their opinion of me in some way. It was as if I needed to convince everyone of my point of view otherwise it might prove to those who disagree that I’m not smart, educated, witty, informed, ACCEPTABLE. I so needed to be the accepted and, if I’m being honest, it’s still a need I have deep down.
While I’m being honest I should admit that my initial reaction is still to push back and convince others to see things my way. For a while I chose to remain (largely) silent but then would beat myself up thinking, “Silence is acceptance!” It occurred to me that, as with everything else in life, there is a balance to be found here. However, my people-pleasing ego is so deeply seeded and it’s far too easy to have an emotional reaction. Because of this I *try* (try is the operative word here) to keep a few things in mind during my pursuit of this balance.
I try not to oversimplify the facts.
Soundbites and tiny bits of information are not a good way to spread accurate information. This is not to say that I don’t often enjoy them, and “like” them when others share them on Facebook or other social media. But I do generally choose not to share them myself.
I simply don’t care for the rhetoric which stems from quotes, anecdotes and skewed statistics. Quite frankly when I see these barbs directed at my own beliefs and opinions I become defensive and am not moved to see the other point of view so I doubt my sharing them will compel others to feel any differently. In fact I would probably only succeed in alienating them even further.
I try not to argue with people who have a world view that is vastly different than my own.
Often disagreements simply boil down to a different world view. Some people believe competition drives positive change, others think collaboration is the answer. Some people believe that the use of force is never appropriate while others believe that it is the best way to combat perceived evil. Heck, even evil is an issue of worldview because some people believe it is an entity in it’s own right while others believe it is created by circumstance (and can therefore be battled pro-actively instead of re-actively). Most people fall somewhere between the extremes of any given worldview but there is still a spectrum and two people in between are still not necessarily at the same point of the spectrum.
I have found that it does little good to debate with a person who’s worldview is vastly different from your own. Two people may look at the same evidence (a video, quote, etc.) and be left with entirely different interpretations and feelings about what they saw and often debate is pointless. This is not to say that expressing your interpretation is pointless, merely that debate, in this context, might be.
I have been in plenty of *ahem* discussions with people who see the world differently than myself and not one time has someone changed their way of thinking as a result of what I had to say. If anything they dig their heels in deeper and try all the harder to prove me wrong. (I myself have never reacted in such a manner!) 😉
So, what is the point? People walk away feeling agitated and stressed and absolutely nothing has changed- except perhaps the opinions of the debaters about each other.
I try to remember that being good at debate doesn’t automatically make you right.
Because of my own neurosis (see above), I have a hard time letting things go. When someone disagrees with me I feel almost COMPELLED to defend my position. It doesn’t matter that I’m arguing with someone who is oversimplifying things or who sees the world in a fundamentally different way than I do- I MUST defend my point of view or they might think they’ve won! But here’s the thing. Master debaters (heh) can win any side of an argument regardless of who’s “right”- that’s what debate club and law school are all about!
Being able to one up the other person doesn’t mean your opinion is more valid than theirs- it simply means you possess the skill of debate. Again, my ego is shouting at me that I need to be good at debate too- we can’t let them WIN! But when you win an argument, what have you really won? If we argue for hours and you wear me down, I don’t have the pertinent facts or your debate skills are better than mine that doesn’t make you right. And it doesn’t make me right when the situation is reversed. I’ve often walked away smugly when I stumped someone or left them speechless only to find out later that they still hadn’t changed their mind- they just didn’t have a good argument AT THAT MOMENT. If we discussed it again they’d probably be better prepared.
I try to find productive ways to express my deeply held opinions and beliefs.
All of these things are fine and seem like good points but I still have that voice in my head telling me, “Silence is acceptance!” So, I donate time and money to causes I support. I actively try to patronize business which share my values. I write a blog post where I can share my ideas in depth. I respectfully disagree without inviting debate. I *try* not to get defensive when questioned about something and instead give concise, informative answers. I try to remember the words of Gandhi and be a living example of the changes I wish to see in the world. And, when all else fails, I vent. Whether in writing or to a friend it leaves me feeling better so I can go back to those productive ideas.
I’m still a neurotic mess who cares too much about what others think. It’s a catch-22- on one hand I want to yell at everyone who disagrees with me so they won’t think I’m weak or worse- wrong! On the other hand I have a tendency to be non-confrontational, especially when I’m not sure I can “win” the argument. At the end of the day I think the best most of us can do is learn to live within our neurosis because simply being aware of them doesn’t make them go away. I keep striving to care less about what other people think but in the meantime I work the plan. The more I express myself productively the more comfortable I become with it. Fake it ’til you make it, I guess!