He said WHAT about me?

Sorry I didn’t get a chance to write for a while but as you know, the world was in celebration mode last week. While the French were celebrating Bastille Day on the 14th, we in Canada and the rest of the world were commemorating a much more significant day. I am referring, of course, to Saint Camillo’s day.

I would like to see it declared a national holiday. After all, Saint Camillo de Lellis was the founder of the Brothers of a Happy Death, and what better way to die than to do it happily? He later renamed his group the Order of the Ministers to the Sick but I’m partial the the Happy Death guys. By the way, wouldn’t that make a great name for a heavy metal band?…but I digress…

My July 7th column was a response to all the people out there who worry about what others are saying about them. (You know who you are.) This is especially problematic when we find ourselves in new situations where people do not know us well. In the absence of data, people are more like to be influenced by others or to base their opinions of us on their own biases, preconceived notions, and imagination.

We have very little influence over this reality. We could get upset and argue with people who are talking about us, but this would be like trying to influence the weather. We are far better off controlling what we can. This means making sure we treat others well. When we do so, we are likely to maintain a good reputation even when some people criticize us. If we give others the time it takes to get to know us, their opinions of us are not likely to be changed by others. (see also: The Long and Short of First Impressions.)

One important issue that I allude to in the column concerns a parent’s relationship with his or her children after a separation. In many bitter divorces, parents often criticize their exes in front of the kids either directly or indirectly. This can have pretty serious consequences. Younger kids can become alienated from one parent, and older ones can be put in such awkward situations that they withdraw from both parents. I strongly advise parents not to play this game since it usually backfires. The best they can do is be good parents and give their children the chance to decide for themselves how they feel about their parents. 

Go ahead, try to ruin my reputation

(Source: Être obsédé par sa réputation. Journal Métro, July 7, 2009)

Do you worry about what others are saying about you? Are you afraid that others will paint unfair pictures of you and make you look bad to the people you want to impress? If so, you might want to try doing what I do when faced with these questions – I don’t care!

Ok, ok, I do care what people think of me. I just don’t worry about what others are telling them. I only worry about things I can control – the direct contacts I have with people – and wait for them to develop their own opinions of me.

Far too many of us obsess about our reputations to the point where we try to control what other people are saying about us. The truth is, we are usually masters of our own reputations.

When you don’t know me

If you never met me and ran into someone who had an opinion of me, you could be quite influenced by that person. After all, in the absence of information, a little light goes a long way. Whether the person tells you I am a great guy or a total jerk, you are very likely to believe him or her.

When you know me

On the other hand, when you already know me well, and have formed your own opinion of me, others have very little influence. If you already disliked me, running into someone who told you how great I was would fall on deaf ears. The same is true if you respected and liked me. That opinion would be hard to shake even if someone tried to criticize me. There is simply too much information on which to base your opinion. Contradictory information would have no influence.

Let them get to know you

This could apply to kids in school, to workers in a new office, or even to separated parents. We all worry about how others may influence our relationships with classmates or co-workers, or what ex-spouses are saying to our children. We want to be respected and treated fairly. This is why we worry so much about having our reputations and relationships ruined.

But others can only influence people who barely know us. Ultimately, in long-term relationships, our reputations depend on us far more than they do on what others are saying about us. The best way to ensure quality in our relationships is to worry about how we treat people. Over time, they will form their own opinions. It is the only thing we can control…and it is the only thing that really matters.

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Posted in Life, Relationships.

Posted on 20 Jul 2009

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