"I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others."
– Marcus Aurelius
"How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy."
– Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius warned us worrying about the opinion of others is a waste of time. But, if we live with other people and are social animals, shouldn’t we worry about what others think?
No, because what others think doesn’t change the intrinsic value of who or what is being judged. It’s just a thought in their mind. That is all.
While this is an easy concept to grasp, it is a hard thing to implement. From the day we’re born we seek the approval of other. Our parents and family at home. Our teachers at school. Our friends and co-workers. We all want to be liked.
But does someone’s opinion of us change our intrinsic value? Does someone else’s thoughts make us a better or worse person? No, it doesn’t. What other people think doesn’t have any bearing on whether you are a good or bad person. Whether you have value or not.
So what happens if we stop worrying about what other people think?
We save ourselves a lot of stress. We focus on how well we’re are doing in our personal growth. We stop worrying about what other people are doing with their lives. We stop focusing on the faults of others. We don’t worry about who others think we should be. We focus on becoming the person we want to be.
Because in the end, you’re the one that chooses who you are. You’re the only one who can decide who you want to be. If someone disapproves of you, or doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change who you are.
Now, does this mean that we should completely ignore the opinions of others? No it doesn’t. I know that I just got done telling you the opinions of other shouldn’t matter to you, but we should listen to others to see if there are any facts or truth to what they have to say.
So how do we do this? How do we listen to the opinion of others, but not let the sway of it impact us? If someone disparages us, how do we let it go? If someone praises us how do we not let it go to our heads?
We do this by being curious. We listen for what is fact, and what is opinion. We leave the opinion for the other person. We verify the facts and use them to our benefit. We try to find the data, so that we can learn from it.
Let’s take an example. If you’re singing a song at a performance, and afterwards you overhear someone mention they didn’t like your performance. Should you be offended? Does it change your value? Does it change the performance? No.
Now let’s say that you go up to this person and ask them why they didn’t like your performance. They may mention something like the prefer a different kind of voice for that song. Maybe they didn’t like the style it was played in. Maybe it was their exes favorites song and it brings up bad memories for them. Most of these things are just their opinion. All of them are things that you cannot change.
But, if they were to tell you that a few notes were flat, or you flubbed some of the lyrics in the second verse, these are factual things that you can verify. These are things that you can do something about. You can practice those tricky passages. You can work on memorizing the lyrics. In this case, you should be grateful for their feedback because others may not feel comfortable being that honest with you.
Learning to separate fact from opinion is a very powerful skill but it something that most of us are not very good at, but there are some ways that you can practice this. The next time you’re watching the news, pull out a sheet of paper, and split it in the middle into two columns. Label one column facts, and the other opinions. Pay attention to what the speaker says and write down which things are facts and which are opinions. Also notice how many things they state as facts but really are just opinions.
When you start to master this, try this in a conversation with someone. Think about what you are saying. Which things are facts and which are opinions? How about the other person?
The buddhist’s teach that all suffering is caused by attachment. Attaching our self worth to the opinions of others is a way to truly suffer. It gives the other person control over you, and you become a victim. Learning how to let go of the opinions of others gives you the strength to stay true to your core values.