Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Should We Care About What Others Think?

Should we care about what others think?  Most people would agree that being dependent upon the approval of others is a vice.  It belongs to people who are insecure, who are people-pleasers, and those people are not only not very happy people, they are usually not very effective in the world in relationships or in their contribution to others.

The problem is that it is easy to go to the opposite extreme in the wrong way.  Is it a virtue to not care at all about what people think?  Some people react violently against the extreme of being dependent on the favorable opinions of others by becoming hardened.  They adopt an attitude which says, "Screw you.  I don't care what you think. I'm going to do whatever I want."  But this is no virtue.  It is arrogance.  It shows bitterness, not strength.  It is veiled weakness.

Some people admire this because it appears so much stronger than being dependent.  It is the ultimate display of human self-sufficiency.  "If you won't like me, then screw all of you.  I'll live completely for myself and do whatever I want."  But this is a lonely way to live.  And others will just think you are a jerk.  Stubbornly, their disapproval will only give you more reason to cut people off and stick further in your "F U WORLD" ways.

But wait a minute.  Jesus wasn't dependent upon human approval but He wasn't a jerk.  Or, since we tend to think of Jesus as an impossible role model because He was also God, let's look at the apostle Paul.  He wasn't dependent on human approval, either.  Yet, he was also a very humble and loving man.  In his letter to the Galatians, he wrote:

"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

What is the difference between Paul and the arrogant jerk?  The difference lies in the heart behind it.  For Jesus and for Paul, the attitude of independence from human approval was undergirded by a strong sense of divine purpose, a sense of a higher purpose and mission in life than themselves.  Their firm stance in their own identity was grounded in their calling.  They knew who they were and what they had to do and therefore what they wanted and didn't want.

But for the arrogant jerk, their brazen, in-your-face approach to life is often little more than a defense mechanism to either deal with deep wounds or just sieze control to get what they want and avoid wounds altogether.  It is saying, "Instead of caring any more about you, I'm only going to care about me and my little wants.  That is how I can protect myself."  While Jesus and Paul could face adversity and opposition with poise and still get into the trenches with other people, this person's approach is to detach emotionally, turn to themselves, and cut people off at the first sign of adveristy.  Surely, Jesus and Paul also closed off personal access from people who were destructive, something the wounded person does as well, but their external prowess came from internal poise, not pain.  In other words, most people who exhibit this kind of narcissism do so out of deep insecurity.  It only appears externally as strength.

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