I listened to a radio program recently that featured an albino man discussing people’s judgments about him and how those judgments made him feel. While I was compassionate toward his suffering, in listening to his “observations” it became clear that a very large part of that suffering was self-induced, just as it is with all of us.
People with publicly visible ailments will often presume that most of their dealings involve their condition. (Everyone else imagines that everyone is focused on what they perceive as their primary intellectual, social and/or physical weakness.) In the example I noted above, the man imagined that everyone that looked at him was seeing him as an albino person. The fact is, they may not have really seen him at all.
The reason most people would have a very limited experience with anyone they walk past is because they’re doing precisely the same thing the albino man was doing. They’re wondering what other people are thinking of them. So in the case of the man with albinism, the internal conversation of a woman passing him in a shopping mall might sound like this:
She steals a look at herself in a passing mirror. “This is the worst haircut I’ve ever had. That hairdresser was an idiot! She didn’t listen to anything I told her and now my hair looks disgusting right before my job interv—oh My God, is that guy albino?”
And of course, brain chemistry will deliver whatever emotions are requested by her narrative. Because that chemistry will affect the entire body, one of the things it will do is put an expression on her/our face. In this case, when her eyes just happened to pass over the albino man, she may have had a disgusted look on her face because she was thinking a disgusted thought about her hair. And then she would have shifted to shock. Not because she has anything against albinos, but just because it is rare and it startled her out of her ego and back out into the world. But as the example expresses, she is so lost in her own thoughts that it’s plausible that she wouldn’t even fully recognize that the man was albino until he’d already passed her.
Meanwhile, in his thoughts the man is thinking, “There it is again. She looked right at me and gave me that disgusted look. Like what—I can’t go shopping just like everyone else? I’m so different that I’m just supposed to hide so you can be more comfortable?” Now I have no idea what that actual man would think, but this applies to anyone anyway: if you’re taking offense at people’s expressions, then you’re assuming you know what people are thinking. And if that’s the case then your problem isn’t the other people, it’s your own thinking.
In my fictional example the girl is not thinking a disgusting thought about the albino man, but he is thinking a disgusting thought on her behalf within his consciousness. It’s both inaccurate and painful and he’ll blame the pain on her, which means he’s doomed to repeat it because he has not recognized its real cause.
This isn’t to say people don’t get discriminated against. I’m sure some people do walk past and think unkind, ignorant, and judgmental thoughts. And on top of that, people can be generally cruel when they themselves are feeling unloved. And then you have to add pure innocence, which can appear insulting to an overly sensitive person. But in the end, while some people may be attacked more than others, absolutely everyone experiences profound examples of discrimination in their life. Even “beautiful people” have people that hate them because they’re attractive. But the point is, what relevance do these opinions really have? Since everyone experiences judgment it’s obviously just part of being alive, like weather, or breathing, or tears.
There is no point in thinking about unpleasant past events, but it’s also foolish to believe anyone lives a life without suffering. It is equally important to remember that suffering happens inside people’s heads. We experience suffering in our consciousness. The only reason other people’s expressions bothered the albino man was because he assumed their expressions had something to do with his thoughts when they were actually about their thoughts.
Everyone lives in Separate Realities. Stop fooling yourself. YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE THINKING. So stop telling yourself chemical-laden stories and blaming them on others. Because that is the heart of most of your troubles. You use your thoughts to create a You, and then you use more of your thoughts to attack that You with invented stories about what you guess other people’s judgments are about You. And then you blame those judgments on the person you imagined thought those things. This is ego craziness. And you can stop it any moment you choose.
Yes, some people will judge you. So? Be Mindful. Do not invest your life guessing what is going on, or replaying what did go on. Do not use your thoughts to launch attacks on—or defenses of—yourself. Just go quiet inside. You don’t need to learn to fly to get away from people’s opinions. You just have to let go of the weight of the judgmental thoughts you’re thinking and you’ll float naturally to a whole new plane of existence.
Enjoy your day.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.