The opinions of others sway in the breeze, plus to minus, minus to plus. A leafy green on our sunny days — brown, crinkly, and fallen on the rest.
Many adults are as preoccupied with being evaluated as they were in school. Since we cannot escape all those who would judge us, the crucial question is what to do with their appraisals.
Our species always needed to keep the favor of those around them. When dangerous animals, enemies, or an absence of food came into play, a team enabled survival.
Men and women desired a place of shelter with a group, more achievable if the newcomers proved of practical value to the bunch. Nor did it hurt to be understood and consoled, while offering the same encouragement to companions. Helpful advice was sought and shared.
We still hope our needs are cared about and cared for by folks we know, though governments take up some slack. Survival depended on friends, lovers, and comrades in our prehistory (before written records). Indeed, we feel adrift and lonely without them today.
Nonetheless, too often, we think “The Three Stooges” captured the state of current circumstances when they said,
All for one! One for all! Every man for himself!
Given our hunger for glory and fear of disgrace or abandonment, happiness requires a strategy for reaching a proper place in society.
Even among the most prominent souls, one discovers performers and athletes desperate to command the stage after they should have left it. The glorious singing voice may be gone, but the desire for continuing adulation often trumps reason.
The larger the craving, the larger our risk of becoming the object of flattery: insincere or excessive kudos, unearned applause, or cheers. Some who rise to the top cannot bear the inevitable fall.
Equally dangerous is dependency on a lover for unflagging attention. Insecurity will cause some to make sexual advances to secure their place as desirable and necessary, even beyond what the partner enjoys.
One might consider an excessive effort to receive smiling notice an addiction of sorts. When the mate tires of overwhelming craving, the worry over anticipated loss produces the rejection that was feared. Consider this a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Marcus Aurelius knew well the world of popularity, reputation, and false compliments. This Emperor of Rome wrote:
Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time swallows it all.
The emptiness of those applauding hands. The people who praise us; how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region (in which) it takes place. The whole earth, (is) a (mere) point in space – and most of it uninhabited.
Goethe, the German genius of words and thoughts, put our transitory nature this way:
Names are like sound and smoke.
Stated differently, we don’t last much beyond the time it takes sound to become silent and the vapor to vanish.
Marcus Aurelius learned to tell the difference between those who offered help and consideration for him and those whose presence was self-interested. At the beginning of his Meditations, he lists 17 of those who aided him in valuing personal virtue and understanding the human universe and his place in it.
Knowing oneself and discovering how to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit are the first steps to becoming less vulnerable to changeable opinions.
Congratulations and blame will come, but convictions must remain despite the crowd’s cheers or boos. Win the self-confidence you wish by setting and testing an internal standard that is reachable and worth reaching.
As the Russian writer, Pushkin wrote:
To praise and slander (both) be nonchalant and cool.
Demand no laureate’s wreath, think nothing of abuse,
And never argue with a fool.*
*Translated by A.Z. Foreman from Pushkin’s Exegi Monumentum.
The statue is Edward Onslow Ford’s Applause, sourced from Wikimedia Commons. The painting is Time, Death and Judgement by George Frederick Watts, courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada.