*my dad as Uncle Vester in the movie House Party 3 giving his nephew, Kid advice about not caring about what people think of you*
Growing up, I have heard some variation of this from my father on several different occasions. Being a sensitive child, this lesson would bear repeating. It would infuriate my father when I would come home crying about how someone hurt my feelings because they either said or did something to me that, well, hurt. Dad: Why are you crying? Me: Because so-n-so said _________. Dad: So what? Who are they? They ain’t nobody! Stop caring what people think about you! I tried to do as he said. I truly did. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to master the art of not caring. And here I am today, still unable to stop caring. Truth be told, my father never actually mastered that art himself. He was another sensitive soul and contrary to what he did his best to portray, he cared a lot about what others’ thought of him.
Thing is though, this isn’t “bad.” It’s a very human thing. We care. We want to be accepted and liked and told we’re ok. It’s uncomfortable when that doesn’t happen. Depending upon the source of the rejection, or how the rejection is dished, it can hurt. A lot. I’ve spent a lot of time contributing to my hurt by trying to act as if I didn’t care. I recognize today that it’s much easier to simply acknowledge that I do care. Now don’t get me wrong. Mere strangers don’t necessarily have the ability to break me down with their critique or rejection. However, depending upon the method in which they choose to deliver it, I can be hurt. And if I truly care about you? Fuh-get about it! I am hurt. And you know what? That’s ok. There is actually nothing inherently wrong with caring about what people think and say about you. It’s a natural, human condition.
I understand my dad’s intentions for trying to teach me to not care. It was rooted in the desire to protect me. But denial doesn’t actually beget avoidance. There’s no actual way to avoid having your feelings hurt in life. Sure, I could hide behind a well crafted wall to keep people out, thereby insuring no one gets close enough to hurt me. I actually think we’ve gotten to a place in life where most of us are walking around crafting these walls to avoid pain. Our ultimate goal is to avoid pain, so we deny, deny, deny. We act nonchalant about everyone and everything, all the while secretly feeling everything. So yeah, I could do that. However, I’d not only be keeping out hurt. I’d also be keeping out love and all the other good stuff that people have to offer. I think the key is to allow myself the space to experience my hurt feelings without giving so much weight to what others have to say. I’m the final judge and jury of my life so I get final say. Someone thinks I’m ugly? Ouch, but that’s their opinion and not a fact. Further, it doesn’t have to cloud my opinion of my looks. Someone thinks I’m a terrible writer? Well I’ve never! Actually I have and it hurt my feelings, but I didn’t allow that person’s opinion to stop me from writing because I love to write. And not to sound cocky, but I think I’m pretty damn good at it. So there.
This comes up a lot now because my daughter is at a pivotal stage in her development. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age and she seems to encounter someone here and there who tells her something unflattering about herself. And because she takes after her mama in the area of sensitivity, she admits that her feelings become hurt when it happens. The Mama Bear in me wants her to point them out so I can accidentally trip them on purpose, but I know this is her lesson and I have to mind my business. Although let me just say that I’ll fight a kid. Yep, sure will! Anyway, unlike the lessons my dad gave me, I allow her the space to be hurt. Inevitably after the hurt passes she tells me that while she was hurt, she knows who she is and she doesn’t believe the person. Well, would you look at that? Who knew?
I’m not knocking my father at all. I know he did the best he could with what he had. And I appreciate him immensely for all he gave me. I think parenting is incredibly difficult and it’s impossible to know with certainty how what you give will impact your children. But one of the beautiful things in life is that we can learn both directly and indirectly from our parents. This was an indirect lesson I learned from my dad, but it was a lesson nonetheless. And as I feel with all my lessons from him, I’m so grateful for it.
*I do not own the rights to the above video*