Sticks, stones and also words


“What other people think of me is none of my business,” said everyone who’s had the opportunity to say it.

This quote has been attributed to everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Gary Oldman and a gazillion others from all walks of life. And the funny thing is, every time I’ve come across a different supposed source, I think, yes, I can hear this person saying those words.

Because these are people other people talk about. Many of them are famous and have first-hand experience of knowing there is a public out there, watching and judging and just dying to comment on what they are doing or saying.

Other people who like to use this phrase are in the self-help or motivational game and they know that un-famous civilians can suffer the same scrutiny and commentary.

In short, people who know how much gossip can hurt, no matter how untrue or irrelevant it is, agree we need to ignore it.

And that’s not such bad advice. We have less than zero control over what others think of us. That’s a wretched truth. No matter how good, kind, friendly or thoughtful we are, there is no guarantee that the people with whom we come into contact will remember us that way. There’s not even a way we can be sure that’s what they see in the first place.

I’ll tell you what we can count on people seeing: our physical selves. (No, I’m not just grumbling because people keep telling me how old I’m looking.) A 2016 study by Cornell University’s Vivian Zayas, professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, confirms so many of our fears – people look at us and they decide, right then and there, who we are and what we are like.

It is, according to the study, very much a case of not merely judging a book by its cover but continuing to do so “even after they’ve skimmed a chapter or two.”

So, even after getting to know you a bit, people are likely to hold on to a first impression they made based on your features or expressions.

This brings us back to gossip. No, not just gossip. Let’s think of gossip as what people are saying when we are not around.

There’s also the horror of what people say when we’re right in front of them.

Once, a friend told me about a conversation she overheard. She saw two women greet each other in a cheerful enough manner to make her think they were old friends.

After some light chatting, one said to the other, “Girl, you spreading like lard on a hot day.”

Let’s get past the cleverness and hilarity of the expression. Why would anyone think it’s ok to say that? Unless she had reason to believe that was exactly the look the other lady was going for, then no, no it’s not ok.

We, the people of TT, have not been quick to embrace political correctness. Sometimes it feels like we’re hardwired against it.

Our familiarity and ease with complete strangers – or even incomplete ones, like people we know in a vague way – is really quite something. On occasion, and from the right person, that might be charming. But this is less and less the case.

Every day we wade through humanity with all our insecurities and problems and nothing protects us from what anyone else is going to think or say about us. About our weight, what we’re wearing, who we’re talking to, where we’re going.

The only thing that has even the smallest chance of putting a barrier between their words and our feelings, is our own commitment not to let it affect us.

It's got so much easier to spread the meanness around, too. In this ease and the comfort of their homes, people can and do create so much pain by their comments, likes, dislikes and shares on social media. Here is where it can easily get out of hand and escalate to bullying. And bullying doesn’t only happen to children any more.

In his book It's None of My Business What You Think of Me!, Peter Baska says, “If you accept a label, then you become it. So if someone wants to label you in a way that limits and controls your life, then why would you ever accept it?”

So don’t. Don’t let someone else’s idea of who you are define you. Start with one simple question: do they know something about you that you don’t?

Remember to talk to your doctor or therapist if you want to know more about what you read here. In many cases, there’s no single solution or diagnosis to a mental health concern. Many people suffer from more than one condition.


"Sticks, stones and also words"

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