What Do You Care What Other People Think?

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?

8 thoughts on “What Do You Care What Other People Think?

  1. Jim Grey

    I suppose a “No thank you, I must have this to be able to walk” would have been as effective and less snarky. I prefer to get my point across, even directly, without risking hurting someone’s feelings. I think I do care that others think of me as polite and kind. I value politeness and kindness and want to model what I value.

    Maybe it’s the Indiana in me. An old friend of mine lives in Hoboken, NJ, and when I visit, people are direct and snarky all the time. It appears to be the culture there. Nobody seems to think a thing of it.

    1. johanna Post author

      Jim, I wish I had been able to think of that in the moment. Thank you.

      I do value kindness. It’s not always the first thing out of my mouth. Sigh.

        1. johanna Post author

          Jim, one of the problems I have is staying congruent with these situations. I don’t always want to provide a reason for my devices. Once I do that, I start to buy into the other person’s assumptions about what I can/cannot do. That is fruitless. There’s a line—at least for me—about being kind and placating.

          I don’t want to placate in these situations, for many reasons. The primary reason is my safety. And, a secondary reason is that this kind of conversation could have moved to bullying/blaming (on the hostess’ part) and placating (on my part). Maybe I could have tried another couple of times to be more gentle. In my experience (which is not all the people all the time), once they decide I don’t need my assistive device, they don’t change their minds. In a sense, she blamed me for being handicapped.

          I am sure she did not mean it like that. I bet if I asked her if she blamed me for being handicapped, she would have been affronted and shocked. Nice people don’t blame handicapped people for their condition—most of the time.

          For me, there is a line between kindness and placating. Sometimes, it’s okay to placate. “I love that sweater.” (Especially if there’s a gift receipt with it.) To me, that’s a different situation than this one.

  2. Robb

    I agree that someone else’s views about you should not impact your self-esteem – you do not have control how other people feel. My opinion is not caring how your actions impact other people because you do not care about their thoughts regarding said action is a self centered view of the world.

    The fact that a person is not impacted by the way other people think of them, does not give them license treat people in a way that would naturally create negative thoughts – especially if they take that attitude into a team.

    My belief is a team member whose typical response is”snarky” or goes out of their way to “teach people lessons” because they do not care about other team member’s reactions/feelings about them is a poor team member. Extrapolate team member into member of society and that’s why I care about what other’s think about me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: