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,’ (I won’t say ‘leader’), lead the group in a discussion about what a bad person so-and-so was. And because of her/their view of her, that made it okay that they were planning to misrepresent the absent woman.
All of this was in an effort to get this other co-worker 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 would very likely misunderstand things in a helpful way. So what do you do if you’re the victim of such an attack?
Okay, let’s first look at what we control. Do we control other’s behaviour? No. Do we control what other people think about us? Barely, but scientifically it’s a firm ‘No.’ But if these things are both not possible, then why are we even having this discussion?
All we have is influence, but no power to force change. So every lifetime will include many instances where each of us is ‘unfairly’ judged. And I am sympathetic to the fact that this stuff hurts when it happens. 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, where the law should be involved, 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 clearly, and then everything happening makes a new kind of sense. But to we that we 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.
All of those opinions form a kind of strainer, that shapes and colours every single idea that we take in. That’s why none of us can even hope to control what other people think of us, even if we 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. Being misrepresented 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 us, without even giving us a chance to defend ourselves, we’re suddenly left realizing that they did not have the same commitment to us that we had to them.
That kind of experience can leave us wondering about our judgment in having a one-sided friendship like that. This is usually extremely humbling, and it makes life less certain—which is far closer to a realistic version of the truth. Add to that 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. We used to have coffee with person A, B and C, but now because of the lies they won’t go with us. So we 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 nearly ten 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. Rather than being lonely, we can 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 us 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, and we, without realizing it, do it to others. It’s just that we can all create justifications that make our examples feel different to us, when in principle they are the same things we complain about when they happen to us.
In the end, our 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. Just as many people will believe positive things about us that are also based on false information, so it all washes out. So:
Forget your reputation. Just go be yourself and the people truly worth impressing will notice the real you anyway. So 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. Life is worth too much for that. Don’t worry about things you only you imagine. Focus on the verb of your life.
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.