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Article ID: 4615
Age Group: Adult
Posted: August 12th. 2002
But What Will People Think?
I went on a health kick about fifteen years ago and, during what I can only describe as a fit of utter insanity, I decided that weight training was the way to go. So about $300 dollars later, I had a bench and a nice set of spin-off weights in the spare room and a big pile of muscle magazines and books on the floor. Now all that I needed was a training plan and some time to get started. Two months went by and not a single 2lb. weight had been hefted. Something else always got in the way. There was not enough spare time. I didn't know where to start. I felt uneasy about doing the exercises if there was anyone else around who might peek in at me. And all of my more feminine friends thought that I really had lost my mind. Women took aerobics; women jogged. Women stretched and flexed, but they simply did not lift weights. "Muscles?" they hooted. "What guy would like looking at a woman with huge muscles?" And, of course, in the end that was what finally inspired me to strap on the belt. Because the moment that I heard the question "what will people think", I had my answer. I began the program that very day and faithfully adhered to it for the next five years.
'What other people might think' is a multi-faceted jewel of a dilemma for some people. On the one hand, there is the specter of ridicule or even of condemnation if one steps outside the 'acceptable' norms and on the other, there is the rather petty demon who whispers in your ear that any or all rebellion against an established order just has to be a good thing. Hold back lest others think you contrary and you're a coward. Reject convention with a disdainful snort and suddenly you're seen as some sort of cult-hero rebel. It is indeed an odd paradigm of our modern culture that celebrates the anti-hero in books and movies and yet still seeks to censor in real life those who stray too far from the mold when in fact both of these facets are part of that same little boxed gem called, 'What will people think'? You've just exchanged one audience (the conventional) for another (the non-conventional), that's all.
Should you care about what other people think of you and/or your choices? Well that depends on two things: the people and the choices. If the people in your life are important in enhancing the overall quality of your life, then their opinions will indeed matter to you. You want the people who are close to you to respect you as you respect them. In a healthy relationship, these things work themselves out quite naturally and whatever bumps develop along the way are dealt with without harming either the relationship or the inherent personal autonomy of either party. There are usually three main strategies with which the people in such close relationships can work it out: Lose-Win, Win-Win and Sorry, But it Ain't Gonna Happen.
Lose-Win: If the conflicting issue is one that is intrinsically more important to one party than to the other, one can simply choose to 'lose' this round. If your friend wants to go to a steak house for lunch and you are a veggies person yourself, you can concede the location to your friend's choice if you value your friend's digestive happiness. And you can get a salad just about anywhere. It's no big deal. If you want to see a certain movie and your spouse wants to see another one, you (or he/she) may decide that you would rather see your second choice than spend an entire night fighting about it or sitting next to some seething and resentful beast in a darkened theater. This approach only works well amongst those who see each other as equals anyway and so the 'loser' and the 'winner' roles can and are periodically rotated in a fair and balanced way. But no one is actually keeping score because no one has to. Both parties are comfortable with the 'fairness' of the overall relationship.
Win-Win: When the conflicting issue is one in which each party holds a different yet important position, and the relationship is such that it could not be easily sacrificed without a great emotional loss, trying for a win-win solution can sometimes work. In order for win-win to be a viable option however, each party must possess certain traits: Integrity, maturity and a belief that there is enough for everyone. Integrity here means that each party knows what it is that he or she really wants. How many 'kitchen sink' arguments take place where the real issue is covered up under the guise of some often-trivial point, we'll probably never know. Chances are good though that we've all had that frustrating experience at least a few times during the course of a relationship. People of integrity define and then stick to the issue at hand. They don't throw any disguises over their motivations and they won't toss in non-related emotional grenades. They are negotiating in good faith.
The level of maturity must also be relatively equal between the two parties for a successful win-win to occur. Maturity comes from the ability to balance the courage of holding one's convictions with the willingness to consider another's options or opinions. If one lacks maturity, any compromise or challenge to one's convictions will be met with resistance 'just cuz'. Losing a point for the immature is like losing their entire being. If they 'lose' or compromise, then they feel that they are complete failures in all aspects of their lives. It strikes at their very shaky foundations of self-esteem. Mature people, on the other hand, know that they can lose a few and still not have their entire core feeing of self-worth come tumbling down.
Win-win is tough love. Because you care about the other person or relationship, you have to be considerate of the other person even as you are working out a solution. You want the relationship to continue and you want the relationship to continue to be a good one. So pounding the other guy into the ground isn't an option here. Both parties want something good for the other party even as they are arguing their own point of view. It is the mix of empathy for the other and the courage to declare for oneself that allows a win-win situation to occur. Anything less than that level of maturity means someone is going to have to lose. The possible loss of an important relationship is just the thing that drives mature people of integrity to stick it out and keep working towards a resolution. The less mature (or those who simply do not value the relationship strongly enough) would simply either resort to more ruthless tactics in order to 'win' or throw in the towel and slink away.
"There is enough for everyone." People, who believe that situations or circumstances are not limited to just a certain amount, understand that just because one person gains something, it doesn't mean that someone else has to lose it first. Believing that there are enough positions of prominence to be attained; that there are enough good things in the universe for everyone to have a piece; that there is enough within me so that I can give a lot of it away and still not be personally diminished is the third hallmark of those who can most successfully negotiate a win-win solution. Those who wish to attain, preserve or advocate the value of some elite position over others cannot ever afford to see anything other than a win-lose solution to conflicts. And guess who has to win? Anything less than a 'win' for this sort is viewed as a loss and pride will not allow for that option to exist in their little empire.
Sorry, But It Ain't Gonna Happen: Did you write your personal mission statement last week? If you did, you may recall that you discovered that some things are simply 'non-negotiable'. These core values are the things from which you cannot be moved. Maybe one of your non-negotiable values is honesty. You simply will not lie. You may try to find a way to speak the truth with kindness or compassion, but speak it you always will. So if a friend should come to you and ask you to cover for him/her in some way- say to state that you were with him/her when you weren't or to allow him/her to use your employee discount or otherwise lie- you must say no. If the friend is a valued one, this might be difficult. If it is a loved one-spouse, child, partner- it can be excruciating. If the relationship is sound, it will survive. The person should respect you for keeping to your code of honor if he/she is a true friend or really loves you as a person of integrity. This is a level above the 'agree to disagree' that often takes place in intellectual arguments or debate. There is real pain involved here in having to say no. But that pain is less than what you would feel if you betrayed one of your core values.
But What Will People Think..? The above scenarios are based upon personal relationships where there is true mutual involvement and commitment. But what about strangers and other critters? If you care more for what 'other' people think about you than what those closest to you do or about what you think about yourself, then you've got a real problem. There are a lot of 'other' people out there and they all will be happy to voice their opinions on what you should and shouldn't be wearing, reading, doing or believing. Best of luck to you then trying to keep them all happy with your choices. People who are constantly looking around to see how other people judge them end up with stiff necks and exhausted spirits. People who are overly concerned with what other people think often cite one reason for this: safety. Safety can indeed be a consideration, but the argument for maintaining safety is often misapplied. What some people mean when they say that they wouldn't be 'safe' if they did such-and-such a thing (even if they want to do it.) is that they are afraid some 'people' won't respect them or like them if they knew who or what they really were. It is not that they would be attacked in the physical sense (a real safety issue), it is that they would be censured as not being one of 'us', one of the 'people' who get to go around and tell other folks what to wear and what to read and what to believe. Oh, what a tragedy that would be! THEY may not approve. Well, so effin' what?
If 'they' are not any of the people with whom you could work out any of the above scenarios with, then 'they' only want to win something at your expense. 'They' want you to practice a mainstream religion. 'They' want you to dress a certain way or only to read certain books or watch certain television programs. 'They' only want you to help make 'them' look good or feel good by buying into their shtick that 'they' are so important and so powerful that your thoughts and desires must be wrong if you don't tow the party line. You therefore are making everyone else in the 'They Collective' look bad if you pierce your tongue, read the wrong 'fluffy' books or (gasp) happen to like 'Buffy' or 'Charmed' or 'Practical Magic'. 'They' have spoken. Now knock it off and fly with the rest of the pack. Or else....
Or else what? 'They' won't like you anymore? Well, all I can say to that is "boo-hoo".
The day that I began my weight-training program, I told my more feminine friends that I was happy that they found pleasure in jogging or yoga but that it wasn't for me. They may not have completely understood it, but they didn't like or respect me any the less for it. One of them actually joined me in the weight room a few months later. That training taught me a lot about combining strength with flexibility and those lessons have carried over into my philosophical views and spiritual practices: Without a measure of flexibility, you can easily (and painfully) snap something important, but without meeting up with a certain degree of resistance, you cannot become stronger.
When you know who values you and whom you value, when you know what it is you believe, when you know when to be flexible and when to resist, you will know who you truly are.
And then, what other people may think about you becomes far less important than what you think -- and what you know -- about yourself.
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, August 12th., 2002
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