I dropped into a coffee shop near my home where there were four ladies seated together. The only other open seat was right next to them. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, but I would have preferred it if that wasn’t the case. It wasn’t the sort of talk I enjoy.
It involved four grown women that ranged in age from late twenties to maybe fifty. They all worked together and the “boss” lead the group in a discussion about what a bad person so-and-so was and that made it okay that they were going to misrepresent her in an effort to get her transferred or fired. The most civilized thing they said was that they wouldn’t out and out lie—but they would flex the truth to the point where the other person very likely misunderstood.
So what do you do if you’re the victim of such an attack? Okay, let’s first look at what you control. Do you control their behaviour? No. Do you control what other people think about you? No. So why are we even having this discussion? Look, I’m sorry that this stuff hurts when it happens, and I’m fully aware that there can be “unfair” and very painful social prices associated with such attacks, but as long as this isn’t career sabotage or violence, this is just a part of living in society for all of us. Unlike the fairy tales we get taught in school and exposed to by our parents, this is the real world. And it’s just fine. In fact it’s amazing. You just have to be able to see it. But to do that you have to surrender.
People will say things whether they are true or not. But that doesn’t mean other people believe them. Bottom line, everyone creates their own sense of reality with their thoughts. Everyone will have an opinion because that’s all an individual is: a collection of opinions. Opinions about food, about identity, about culture, about history, about conduct and ethics, etc. etc. And that view colours every single thing we intake. Which is why you cannot even hope to control what other people think of you even if you are the most powerful person on Earth.
I’ve had an extreme example of this sort of situation happen to me so I have a lot of familiarity with the kinds of feelings that can emerge. It packs quite a wallop. Most people find the hardest part is that it shakes their faith in their ability to trust overall. Because when someone you trust so easily changes their opinion of you without even giving you a chance to defend yourself, you’re suddenly left realizing that they did not have the same commitment to you that you had to them and you wonder about your judgment in having a one-sided friendship like that. This is usually extremely humbling. Add to this the fact that the sudden change in your daily domestic life can be very jarring and painful and it’s one of life’s bigger experiences to traverse.
It feels strangest at the start. You used to have coffee with person A, B and C, but now because of the lies they won’t go with you so you have to experience the awkward feelings of creating a new pattern for coffee breaks or whatever. But that’s just life. No need to worry about that. For all you know your new coffee partner becomes a best friend. There are seven billion people on the planet and the vast majority are awesome potential friends, so we don’t really have to harbour attachments to those that are gone. Don’t be lonely, replace the time with lost friends with time with new people. You’ll even find that you’re better at choosing friends based on character more than interests, and that generally creates a richer exchange between you and them.
My heart goes out to anyone experiencing this, but it’s just a part of life with language. There’s so many routes to happiness in life there is no need to use words to give any thought to the few stories that will close you off from experience. Your salvation—your freedom—lies in your ability to choose from a fantastic number of paths through life. Every moment is a decision—a choice. But we get so focused on wanting something specific that we start to get attached to it and then we expect it. Do these words seem familiar? Like Buddhism-familiar? That’s because that’s what we’re talking about here.
You have to let go of your attachment to your expectation of what people will think of you or others. We were always wrong anyway. We just lie to ourselves that what we think of ourselves is what other people think of us too. For all we know someone’s bad stories could be improving some people’s views of us. Lots of people smile at people’s faces and then stab them in the back the moment the person turns around. That’s just people. And that’s always been happening to us too. Your job isn’t to dispel anything, it’s to accept that this is the true nature of reality and the best course of action is simply ignoring all of the stories as insignificant because in general that is what they are.
Forget your reputation. Just go be yourself and the people truly worth impressing will notice the real you anyway. Just breathe out any ugliness. There is nothing to be gained by thinking about it. Simply live your life. Don’t surrender a bunch of time to fighting ghosts. Your life is worth too much for that. Don’t worry about things you only you imagine. Focus on the verb of your life.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.