This is one of the 5 Sutras taught in the Art of Living Happiness program founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I find this principle or sutra to be so relevant in our life. We tend to sway away with people’s opinions, just like a pendulum does. Our life goals, our priorities, our career, our interest, even our food, life partner or clothing is enormously influenced by what people will say or think. Say in a party, or event, if 10 people praise us, and only 1 criticizes us, then we will surely remember only 1 person in our entire life. So much is our personal life dependent on public perceptions.
But if we take a step back, become calm and contemplate on this fact, that does it really matter what people think about us? Does people’s opinions really matter in our life? Should we allow others comments or thinking to affect our thinking and opinions? I think most of us will answer a big “NO”.
This is because everyone changes in life. And so does our opinions and views. Nothing is permanent in life, neither is human life itself eternal. We never know what’s going to happen in the next moment. Similarly, people’s opinions about others are also influenced by their own experiences they have had before. For someone who struggled with poverty during childhood, will most probably become a money saver, or passionate for getting rich in later life. But on the other side, someone who has lived an affluent life, might not care for the comforts he/she have had received, without any efforts. They might not even realize it, how fortunate they are. But we see many of them getting depressed or even obsessed in life due to comments from some friend in a party, or even jealous for not having the desired health, or beauty, or even skin color. Our wishes, our opinions, our views are all a product of the experiences we have had in our life.
One thing I find funny is how much delight the society has in giving their free opinions and comments to others, even when they aren’t asked for. As J K Rowling said in her famous Harvard commencement speech “..but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it”. It is true indeed that the world is more than happy to opine or interfere in other people’s affairs. And we often see that the society never stops in this pursuit. If someone hasn’t achieved a goal like for ex: good job or education degree, then people will keep asking or reminding him/her. Later, when the goal is achieved, the society immediately moves on to assign a new goal which might be job, or getting married. Then after marriage, the next goal is having kids, and so on and on and on. Its simply never stops!
What really happens in this process, is we get entangled due to other people’s expectations, or opinions. We lose our peace of mind. We lose our confidence in our own ability, and we start living a life based on what other want us to live. As Steve Jobs rightly said in his Stanford commencement address – “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. “ We get trapped by dogma and which at the end, makes us regret our lost time to work on what we truly loved to do. We regret for the lost opportunities which might have altered the life track differently. Due to other people’s opinions, we take the crowded or easy path, and not the path which is less traveled, which Robert Frost beautifully expressed. We ultimately feel consequences of “The Road Not Taken…”
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Hence, lets just allow other people to express what ever they want. But let not allow them to enter our mind, or cloud our conscience. We somehow know deep somewhere down in our heart, what we like, what we want in life. Our gut instincts, our mind, our heart is more powerful to face all the external bombardments which occur in the form of people’s unwanted opinions. Lets just put a filter on our mind which will allow only the good, relevant and positive ideas to enter the mind, and flush out all the negative thoughts, fake news, gossips, people’s expectations etc.
Just like hand washing is necessary to stay safe from Coronavirus, we need a mind washing in the form of meditation, wisdom, reading good books, listening good music to keep the mind away from the virus of other people’s opinions, judgements and expectations.