Richard Feynman, a physicist, wrote a terrific book, What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character. If you have not read it, I recommend it. Let me pull apart the title a little.
There are several questions here:
- What do other people think, especially about you?
- What implications do their thoughts have on you?
- Why do you care?
I can’t know or change what other people think. I can choose my reaction to their reactions to me.
I have had some strange-to-me encounters in a variety of places. I use my rollator whenever I leave the house. At one restaurant, the hostess offered to store my rollator at the hostess desk. I said, “No, thank you.” She persisted. I said, “Would you store your legs at the hostess desk?” Her mouth dropped open. Her eyebrows met her hair. She was all set to say something and a different hostess said, “Let me take you to your table.” I thanked her and Mark and I went to the table. Mark laughed the entire way.
I wasn’t sweet. I was blunt and direct. (I know, what a surprise.) On the other hand, she might have a different perspective on people with assistive devices. I don’t care what she thinks about my bluntness. I do care that she considers the consequences of her offers. I am sure she thought she was being helpful. I suspect she was surprised by my answer.
Now, here’s the difficult part. I can’t mind-read. I have no idea what she thought. Even though I’ll try to answer these questions, I might not be correct. I’m okay with that.
What did she think about me?
At first, I suspect she thought she was asking me something reasonable. She wanted the rollator out of the way, so no one would trip on it. I understand that. I bet she thought she was asking for something reasonable.
When I was snarky, I bet she was first offended. After all, she asked me for something reasonable, from her perspective. I don’t know if she reflected more on our interaction.
What implications do their thoughts have on me?
I am thinking about how to clarify my need for my rollator without being snarky. Not that I have trouble being snarky. And, I prefer to offend people as little as possible. Why look for trouble?
Why do I care?
I ask people for favors more often than able-bodied people do. It’s the nature of being handicapped.
On the other hand, I am happy to help her see a different perspective on the world. (Yes, that was more snark.)
Our interaction provided me fodder for writing. I’m happy about that. Could I have been more gentle with her? Maybe. I doubt she would have seen my perspective as quickly and as concisely.
Overall, I don’t care what she thinks about me. I was happy to provide her a nudge (okay, it might have been more than a nudge) to a new and transforming idea about the world and how it works.
In retrospect, I am satisfied with our interaction. One key for me: her reaction to me did not change my self-esteem. When I think about the question about caring what other people think, I consider self-esteem to be a big piece of it.
I do not allow other people’s reactions to me to change my self-esteem. They might provide me data or feedback. Only I can change my self-esteem.
That is the question this week: What do you care what other people think?