I have a confession to make. I care what people think. I’m embarrassed to admit this, as I adore the thought of blithely travelling through life, doing my own thing, loving and not caring if I’m loved in return, appreciating and not caring if I’m appreciated in return, brushing off the thousands of misunderstandings that lead to lost or broken relationships. But that’s not me.
I know the truisms … a person has as much power over you as you give them … it’s none of my business what other people think of me … I post them on Facebook, these inspirational quotes, and I believe the message they convey. And yet, I cannot embrace them in my own life.
I give people power. I hand myself to others and let them do what they will. Not everyone. Most people seem to care extraordinarily what strangers on the street think of them, but very little what their dearest acquaintances do, it seems. I’m the opposite. I wear what I like for the sake of comfort, or beauty, or fun, and subsequent raised eyebrows don’t bother me at all. (I love dresses. Once I was doing a Rebuilding Together volunteer activity … heavy-duty home repair work for an unfortunate homeowner … and the woman in charge looked at my dress and said “You’re … not … going to lay a floor in that dress, are you?” I was like “Yup!” and I laid floor on my hands and knees, and dug holes for trees, and helped nail together a deck. You wear the clothes, they don’t wear you, after all!) I drive my ridiculous rattley old car with its peace and love bumper stickers with pride, and I’ll dance to music that others just think is background noise.
But once I let you in, once I care what you think, I’m at your mercy. I want those I love to love me in return. I want those who impress me to be impressed by me. If I think you have good taste in art, I want you to love my art. This makes me vulnerable, and emotional, and somewhat difficult to be around at times I believe.
My son was in my Art History class last year, when I was a high school art teacher. I would give weekend assignments which had questionable art historical relevance, but (I thought) very strong life relevance. Such as “do something nice for someone but make sure they don’t know it’s you”, or “make 3 people smile”. Well, my son was reading his “what I did this weekend for my assignment” writing one Monday, and he started with “Ok, my mom’s pretty emotional, so …” at which point the girl next to him said “Corwin! Your mom’s going to kill you!” but in fact I had to admit, no, that’s fair. Now, sometimes, when I get upset about something ridiculous, and later apologize for it, my wonderful husband just says ‘It’s ok. Whenever you get really upset about something, I remember Corwin saying “My mom’s pretty emotional” and all is forgiven.’ Did I mention I love the people in my life?
I had so much more to write … stories about family, and being vulnerable, and taking that vulnerability back when someone doesn’t hold it with the care it deserves. Vulnerability is a gift, a trust in the goodness of another. And trust is hard to bestow sometimes.
But I think, perhaps, today I’ll leave with this thought: Is it ok to care what others think? Is it weakness, or strength, to be this vulnerable? What do you think?