Friday, July 24, 2009

Who's Your Cheerleader Now?

The other night, Iris and I were having dinner with friends, one of whom had just recently declared her independence from the tyranny of what others thought of her. It had been a breakthrough moment in her life and she was exuberant in her new found freedom. That very day, she had been challenged on her "lack of depth", and she resoundingly resisted the accusation with the simple statement that she, in fact, has depth. For the purpose of this blog, let's call our friend Betty.

As the evening progressed, our discussion wondered into the realm of music. We shared our love for music, the types of music that interest us, and how we were all involved in playing music in one form or another. As we talked, Betty spoke of her desire to play the guitar, but then quickly explained that her hands were simply too small to play.

Having small hands myself and being able to play guitar, I held my hand up to Betty's to see just how small her hands were. Turns out, that our hands were about the same size. Hmmm...

With that, I challenged Betty that perhaps her hands weren't too small to play guitar. We played with this a bit, and after a while we both concluded that Betty could in fact play guitar... if she wanted to. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music, playing songs we'd recorded, and... playing guitar.

The Next Day
As I thought about this the next day, it occurred to me that being free of the opinions of others is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if we have people in our lives who are negative and overly critical, it can be really useful to decide that their opinions of us don't matter; we are who we are, and what we make of that is up to us. This approach can be wonderfully empowering.

On the other hand, if there are people in our lives who are positive, encouraging and edifying, well... When I hear those types of opinion, I'm predisposed to buy into them. I mean, I really like those types of opinions and find them really useful. Why would we want to discard those opinions?

Maybe My Thesis is Wrong
As I write this, something just occurred to me: I might not be a good example of normal. My thesis for this blog was based on the belief that, when we buy into the beliefs of others, we do so uniformly, i.e., we buy into both the positive and the negative beliefs.

But I realize that many of us are predisposed to buy into the beliefs of others that are negative and disparaging, but not into beliefs that are encouraging and uplifting.

OK, that being the case, I think I can still pull this off.

Totally Free of the Opinions of Others
Originally, I was going with the idea that, if we suddenly find ourselves operating independently of the beliefs of others, we may also suddenly find a gap in our self-worth and confidence. In that case, we would need to fill the gap with our own positive reinforcement of who we are and what we can do. You'll want to think of ways to support yourself, yourself.

Benefiting from the Opinions of Others
More likely, if we say that we want to operate independently of the beliefs of others, we really mean the beliefs of others that are negative and disparaging. It may be that we never or rarely considered the beliefs of others that are positive.

In that case, the solution is not to discard the beliefs of others part and parcel, but instead, to start to listen to others with a different filter. In other words, start to actively hear the things that others say that are positive and encouraging.

By listening to others with the belief that they are saying things that are positive and encouraging, we start to hear things that are positive and encouraging. We might even find that the people in our lives whom we've always considered to be antagonistic and doubtful, actually had great things to say about us. Hmmm....

The Conclusion
So, where's this all get us? One of two places...

First, if you do absolutely declare your independence from the opinions of others, then it's going to be important to think it through from both directions. In particular, you're going to want to replace the cheerleaders in your life with your own cheer leading! You'll want to become your own biggest fan and supporter. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a dearth of positivity.

Second, if what you really want to do is to operate independently of the negative influences and beliefs of others, then there may be a better way to approach it than discarding everything. Consider listening better and more intently to what others say about you, with the perspective that they are saying things that are positive and encouraging.

At the end of the day, you can always toss some or all of what you've heard. But, you won't miss the great and wonderful things that people believe about you. And you might discover people in your life you've never known, though they've been there all along.


  1. How about this:

    Don't look for positive nor negative opions, just look for the usefullness of the opinion you hear. - be curious rather than furious or delirious.

    In other words: other peopls opinions are just their opinion, but there could be an interesting reason behind their opinion, and there could be an interesting reason for your own desire to belive or disbelief, agree or dissagree with them.

  2. Hi Joy, I like the idea of seeing things from a neutral perspective and evaluating the usefulness of what has been offered.

    And clearly, opinions are just that, opinions.

    Still, I think there can be some value in actually seeing everything that is being said as positive. Not in a mode of delirium, but instead, recognizing that we often find the evidence that we're looking for.

    I think the benefit is twofold. First, we might derive useful advice where might otherwise have missed it. Second, we'll start to see the opinion provider in a more positive light.

    Just something to try on.


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