A Roman Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius observed almost 2,000 years ago, “We all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own,” whether they are friends, strangers, or enemies.

“Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Jesus taught. To put it simply, what was meant is that maybe you think you’ll face God’s punishment or karmic justice for holding harsh opinions of others, but these lessons are just as important while we’re on Earth. To judge others is to acknowledge a belief that people can, in fact, legitimately judge one another; thus, it is an implicit acceptance of others’ judgment of you.

Also “Whoever judges others digs a pit for themselves,” the Buddha said.

It couldn’t have been truer than this. We do care what people say or think about us. But is your life ruled by their dictat? If yes, maybe you are not living your life your way, you are living it as per others’ opinions about yourself.

We have been constantly subject to opinions since time immemorial.

In the tao te ching, Lao Tzu wrote, “Care about people’s approval / and you will be their prisoner.”

Are you leading your life as a prisoner? If yes, you need to break these shackles and enjoy freedom.   People’s opinions may matter to us even if we don’t believe they should; they may matter even when we neither hold the other in high esteem nor see the other’s opinion as being of any real consequence to our personal or professional lives. But care we do. Our fear of other people’s opinions, or FOPO as we call it, has become an irrational and unproductive obsession in the modern world, and its negative effects reach far beyond performance.

Sample this, what would people say if you do things like:

  • Choose to home-school my child over formal school education
  • Dance to my favourite songs and I am a grandmother
  • Hang out with my friends in a pub after retirement
  • Relish street food when I am a top-notch banker
  • Quit my well-paying job to travel around the world etc.

If you do care, remind yourself that no one cares.

How can you stop worrying about people’s opinions?

  • Expect and accept that people will have opinions of you.
  • Take back control over your feelings.
  • Remember that everybody makes mistakes.
  • Develop your sense of self and build confidence.
  • Don’t try to mind-read – you’re probably wrong.
  • Consider the source.

The ultimate truth is that is it quite beneficial to be aware of and care about others’ reactions to you. But you should not lose sight of yourself. But if you think you do place too much value in trying to please others, then it’s time to turn the focus on strengthening your sense of self.

Remember you are the best judge of your situation; you should inculcate this confidence that what you are thinking or doing is right. Nobody else has the right to judge your judgments about your life. If you are fair, dark, short, tall, fat, thin, educated, or uneducated…whatever, it works for you. Nobody has any business to body shame you.

Unfortunately, in India, people only greet with, “how are you” not in letter and spirit, instead they want to strike up a conversation revolving around, Arre kitni moti ho gayi hai? Bimar lag rahi hai? Arre bacha fail ho gaya? Yeh colour zara bhi suit nahin kar raha…etc. etc. They leave no opportunity to leave you startled with their unsolicited comments/observations. Sometimes they are valuable, but most of the time, such comments are uncalled for and you need not be disturbed about it.

Assess the whole situation like this: The irony about feeling bad about ourselves because of what people are saying or thinking about us is that others have much fewer opinions about us, be they positive or negative, than we can imagine. Studies show that we consistently overestimate how much people think about us and our failings, leading us to undue inhibition and worse quality of life. Next time you feel self-conscious, notice that you are thinking about yourself. You can safely assume that everyone around you is doing more or less the same.

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle

This way we notice that what people are thinking about you is not real.

Are those people over there are real? The ones you think are talking about you? Judging you? They’re not. Really. They don’t have time. They’re too busy worrying about what people are thinking about them!

And even if they were looking at you, judging you, talking about you, you can be almost certain they’re not saying the awful things you imagine.

Instead, they’re envying the colour of your hair, your dressing sense, your success, and the way you look so confident.

What we think people think of us usually doesn’t come close to reality.

Why do you fear what people think?

One reason we fear others’ opinions is that negative assessments can lead to shame, which is the feeling of being deemed worthless, incompetent, dishonourable, or immoral—and thus, given the weight we place on others’ opinions, feeling this way about ourselves.

Don’t be into this trap, it is beautifully laid to put you down, and make your life miserable. You need to overcome this state of mind to live a happy and peaceful life. You need to assess your merits and be happy about them. You need to identify your shortcomings and work on them, irrespective of what people say about you. Understand, your life cannot revolve around others’ observations, opinions, and judgments.

You need to create your universe.

Live in a happy space and be HappyHo.