Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Perception and reality

I don't spend a lot of time wondering about what other people think of me.  So when I find out, the surprise is sometimes pleasant and sometimes not so much.

Nothing's more wonderful than receiving an unsolicited compliment or praise.  In the past few days, I've had some nice experiences like that.  It is an incredibly buoying moment, unlooked-for, unexpected.  As you have gone about your daily business, someone has noticed what you are doing and let you know that you are doing it well.

On the flip side, few things are more disturbing or derailing than finding out other people have a problem with you.  When you are not focused on other's opinions of you as a matter of course, the revelation comes as quite a shock.  I think that's because the other option isn't not caring what people think, but simply taking the evidence at hand at face value.  The absence of conflict or the presence of productive cooperation is taken to be prima facie evidence that there are no barriers to the relationship.  So when you're informed to the contrary, it seems to come out of nowhere.

Time was that I invested a lot of my identity in being liked and being praised.  As a result, I was torn between trying to find out what people thought of me (because if their opinions were good, I got a huge ego boost) and avoiding the subject altogether (because if it were bad, I'd rather not know about it).  Now I'm just too busy to obsess about it.  I spend a lot more energy trying to be open about my motives and processes, to make my self an open book, and let the chips fall where they may.  Just about the only thing that can make me question that strategy is when it's completely misinterpreted as an effort to impose control or as a failure to listen.  The unexpected praise from other quarters, though, can be reassuring that such misinterpretation is not entirely my fault.  I have to listen to both unsolicited compliments and criticism, but can't make the mistake of believing that either represents the most important truth about me.

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