Why other people’s opinions don’t matter – part 1

When I was in grade seven at school, I was assigned a pseudo-girlfriend.

Her name was Sally, and the sham arrangement was created by a well meaning group of fellow students who, being happily ensconced in relationships themselves, thought it was necessary to ensure that myself and Sally were not left out in the wilderness of single life.

Although our relationship was never consummated by so much as holding hands, I remember feeling like there was a tug-of-war going on in my mind.  On one side was my desire to be accepted by my hooked-up friends, and on the other was my authentic self shouting about how Sally was a nice girl, but certainly not the one for me.  

I still went along with the idea though because the thought of possible social ostracisation from that particular peer group was more than I could bear.   Being smart, freshly pimpled and still growing into my lanky limbs, I was already on the verge of being labelled a fully fledged dork as it was.

The arrangement eventually faded from the minds of my peers within a few months, but I do wonder how my social standing would have fared if I had come up with a clever quip like ‘thanks, but I’m saving myself for the perfect girl’, rather than smiling politely.

The point I’m trying to make is that our desire to fit in and mould ourselves to agree with the opinions of others is a powerful inner force that will drive us to do, say or behave in ways that is often not in line with our own inner beliefs.  Tim Urban colourfully describes this phenomenon as the Mammoth, while others might simply call it the Ego.  

If you look back 50,000 years, our human ancestors lived in tribes and relied on good social standing and peer approval for their very survival.  Fitting in and pleasing the others in the tribe was a big deal, and if there was any smack-talk about how strange or weird or unproductive he was, it could mean his ranking in the tribe would drop to the point of being ousted and left to die in the wilderness.   

Civilisation has changed rapidly to the point where our survival is most certainly assured, regardless of our social standing, but our biological evolution moves at a much slower pace, so our mammoth’s are still living in the Dark Ages.

That inner Mammoth inside each of us is all about survival and looking at the outside world to make decisions. Conversely, our authentic self, while it pays attention to the outside world, is informed by our experiences, personal points of view, integrity, interests, activities, the kinds of people whose company we enjoy, and so on.

So, how do we learn how to tune into our authentic self, and tune out the mammoth? For more about that, see Part 2.