On Being Attached to Others’ Opinions

First, a story:

One morning, a bird was perched on a tree branch, singing its song loudly and confidently.

A woman was walking nearby and heard the song, immediately overwhelmed with joy. “Mr. Bird,” she cried, “your song is so beautiful, thank you for singing!”

The bird looked down and simply replied, “I don’t do this for you. I’m a bird. I sing songs. It’s just what I do.”

Soon after, a man stormed out of his house, overwhelmed with anger. He threw a rock at the bird and yelled, “You stupid bird, your song just woke me up! I demand you stop singing!”

Dodging the rock, the bird again replied, “I don’t do this for you. I’m a bird. I sing songs. It’s just what I do.”

The bird is simply “doing him” as we like to say. He’s not trying to make people happy, and he’s not trying to make people upset. He’s completely unattached from others’ opinions. If people like him, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s okay too.

Most of us are taught to detach ourselves from negative opinions. Everyone’s a critic, right? And as we all know, some critics are more constructive than others. If we attach ourselves to the opinions of our less-than-constructive critics (read: “haters”), we may lose confidence in our abilities and refrain from openly expressing ourselves in the future. Sure, negative criticism can keep us anchored in the real world, but obsessing over it can prevent us from being who we are.

But what about positive opinions? Of course it’s great to receive a genuine compliment. The question is, should we be chasing compliments? Notice that the bird wasn’t singing because he desired praise or some other reward. He was singing simply because that’s what he does. For the bird, singing is meaningful in itself. When we do things to satisfy others, when we chase positive opinions, we stray away from the intrinsic meaningfulness of what we do.

Imagine if the bird from the story decided to sell out. Imagine the woman said, “Your singing is great, but I think tap-dancing would really suit you better.” She’s asking the bird to change his nature—to act against his natural inclinations—in order to please the woman. If he were to do this, could we really say that he’s in control of himself? Probably not.

So it’s important to recognize that we’re constantly being rewarded and punished, pushed and pulled, complimented and denigrated, and that we receive all of this feedback from external sources.

I’m not suggesting you ignore feedback; my point is that we should be conscious of the ways others seek to influence us. Because for better or for worse, it happens every day. And when we give up control by becoming overly attached to what others think, we may no longer be able to express ourselves from our core.

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