Not so long ago, I was in a discussion with a guy who had what would be considered by many a rather “gruff” personality. He knew very well that he came off that way to people and he didn’t care. He explained his attitude with a statement to approximate effect of, “I don’t care what others think. I am who I am.” (No, it wasn’t Manny Ramirez.)
There’s an element of truth to his opinion. No one, least of all someone such as me who claims to follow the life and teachings of Christ, should be ruled by the arbitrary opinions of others or by temporary social whims. I confess to falling prey to that pressure all too often myself.
Yet there’s serious danger in taking the “care-free” attitude too far. (I suppose it could be said that any attitude taken too far affords dangers of its own.) In many reasonable ways, we need to care very deeply about what others think of us, not necessarily for our own personal reputations, but because each of us represents others.
Much to my chagrin, I see this all the time with other bikers. I’ll see someone coast right through a red light in the middle of traffic. Clearly, that’s a biker who doesn’t care a fig for what others think of him. (He also doesn’t care too much about self-preservation, but that’s another story.) Anyone who saw this suicidal clown will, consciously or not, lump all bikers together and think we’re all jerks. He may act on that opinion to some innocent party’s detriment.
The same could be said of any group I represent, willingly or unwillingly. As an adherent to the Christian faith, if I mistreat someone or act in a manner incompatible with that faith, I taint the very name of God. We’ve all seen it on the news.
As a person with MS, I represent my neurologically-challenged friends. If I whine, complain, behave like a self-pitying victim, or act badly in any way – which I undoubtedly have – that can cast aspersion over others with MS.
I represent my family, my town, my neighborhood, my gender, other writers, other cyclists, and probably a lot more. If I don’t care at all what others think of me, then by implication, I don’t care what they think of all those groups. Where’s the good in that?
It should go without saying, but we should also care very much how our behavior affects others directly. If I’m an abusive person, I could just write it off as “the way I am.” A lot of damage can be – and has been – done under the guise of that indefensible philosophy. It can be used to justify any destructive behavior, in fact.
As John Donne famously said (or was that Jon Bon Jovi?) “No man is an island.” Our actions affect others, both directly and indirectly. I’d argue that, for the most part, caring about what others think is a loving response.