You may be familiar with the idea that if you want to change the world you must change yourself. When you change the way you see the world then the world will look different to you. You can only have the changes you want in the world if you change yourself in those ways. Therefore, don’t try to save the world, try to save yourself.
We can not change others. That means, we can’t change or control how others view us. Yet one of the strongest compulsions for a member of modern society to is care immensely about what other people think. It’s a waste of time and a waste of mind energy to spin thoughts about other people, and how other people react to us. Perhaps we just need a little nudge in the right direction to understand why this is so.
We are a society of labels and categories. If we label ourself as this or that, we believe something about our individual nature fits into a group ideology, and we feel comfortable and sometimes proud to be a part of a group. We have a need for and feel safe with a defined social identity. We see ourselves a certain way.
Conversely, we interact with other people and analyze them, especially if they belong to one of our categories or a category we judge as bad. Before we even meet them we already have a pre-constructed belief system about categories. With each person we see, we measure them up according to our belief system, which is usually derived from life experiences. Every person we meet has a self image based on their life experiences and their current belief system.
How many times have you met a person where your image of them matched with their image of themselves? Let’s say a former boss thought he was witty, smart and attractive and you thought he was a complete idiot along with being repulsive. Or one of your teachers thought she was funny but you didn’t, and neither did most of the kids in your class. I had a doctor at one time who thought he was a genius; I fired him after he arrogantly gave me inaccurate information while condescending toward me during an appointment. My image of him differs greatly with his image of himself.
This kind of thing happens throughout almost every interaction we have with another person, wether brief or over a period of time with getting to know someone. Sometimes images can match up, but the vast majority of time they do not. What this means is that we have no reason to spend time worrying about what other people think of us, and we should spend even less time judging others.
The irony is that if we consider focusing inward on ourselves and analyzing self we may think our mind would become selfish, or self absorbed. It’s a thing of opposites because people who are self absorbed and narcissistic care obsessively about what others think of them. They also spend a lot of time judging other people. It’s the healthy mind that can go within, remain focused on what’s going on in the mind, and control the mind to detach from ego and negativity.
It really doesn’t matter if I go around town thinking I’m the smartest, most talented, funniest individual around. Because not only am I probably alone in that thought, I’m alone in all my thoughts. If I am truly happy with who I am, I will have a happy mind, a happy life, a happy way of looking at others, and a way of seeing the world as my happy place. Anything that feels “off” or “wrong” within my mind (my perspective) is about some negative aspect of my mind. Any bad decisions I make, are due to unhealthy aspects of my mind. Any negative consequences I experience are from previous mistakes and bad decisions.
Being accountable to oneself may seem as though it could lead to the feeling of guilt. Although guilt is a useless feeling, feeling some sense of regret regarding bad decisions can be a source of help as to be a reminder not to repeat the same mistakes. One of the main reasons we tend to repeat mistakes is because we are too busy worrying about what other people think, or the mistakes made by the other, to have a sense of accountability and regret to self. Being accountable to self can actually feel refreshing.
If you think about what you would want to change about the world, also think about how you have contributed to that problem. Be accountable to self, and then have a plan of action for what you can do to help contribute to a solution. For example, say I would like to end world hunger. When I think about what’s contributed to it, there’s enough resources on the planet for every being to be fed, so I’d likely say hoarding food and resources due to greed is probably the main thing causing this situation. Then I can think about how I’ve overeaten, bought too much food and threw some out because it expired, and didn’t do any volunteer work in my community this year for the cause. I can take note of the negative results of my actions and inactions, and then make a plan to change those issues going forward. Eat smaller portions, buy smaller portions, and commit to volunteering within the next one month.
The above example doesn’t take a lot of effort, yet even considering being accountable and making changes on any level seems exhausting to many of us. Yet if you take the path less traveled, you’ll see that there aren’t many other people on it, but stay on it for a while and you won’t even care about that. Nor will you care about what others think of you, and you will not often think about anyone else in a judgmental manner. Your thoughts will be more focused on all the things you enjoy about life with your happy mind on.