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Do you allow the opinion of others to affect what you feel and do?

How much does the opinion of others impact what you think, say and do? Many people say to me that one of their greatest fears is of not being thought well of by others. The role of judgement plays a huge part in our lives, more than we’d perhaps care to admit. Yet, it is just worth bearing in mind that it is just that, a judgement.

Consider the role that judgement plays in our lives. For starters there is religion which in an increasingly secular world still plays a huge part, and much religion is about judgement at some level, usually about those struggling to fully practice what the religion preaches. Many of us will, if we’re honest, still feel inside that there’s some higher being watching us and passing judgement on our thoughts, words and actions. So it rubs off.

Judgement has also powerfully influenced the development of secularism, despite the latter’s protestations. There’s also legal systems and law enforcement. In my book, “Connecting to Inner Peace”, I explain how judgement works, and you might like to think about such things related to it like suspicion, investigation, accusation, defence, exoneration, confession, evidence of guilt or innocence, the verdict, guilt again, the judgement itself, the sentence, punishment, guilt and shame, repentance, admission of weakness, examination of one’s failings, purging, forgiveness, release. Have I left anything out? It’s a big list! And we carry all this around inside us as a means by which we regulate our lives.

It can feel like someone else is regulating our lives, were it not that we are also doing this to ourselves, if we look at this psychologically. What a lot to deal with!

A lot of this can sound part of a system or someone inside us, but let’s not forget that this is also the product of our society and our upbringing, the social consensus. We’re communicating this stuff to each other all the time. We judge each other seemingly all the time. No wonder people can be anxious about what others think.

Except that often they don’t. They are too busy thinking about themselves!

No wonder we need to be aware of the role of judgement in our lives

The practice of mindfulness gives a big emphasis to being non-judgemental about our experience. Rather it encourages us to accept what occurs as phenomena and to rest as the witness, the non-judgemental observer. People development practitioners of various hues will, if their own development has included this, also stress the value of this approach since it frees the client up to explore their own beliefs, attitudes, values and approaches without, it is to be hoped, any sense of interference from the stance of the practitioner.

Carl Rogers said that for healing to take place three core conditions were necessary, congruence, empathy, and respect. They sound good, but they are a challenge to practice and yet still a lesson for life and relationship with others, not just for certain professionals.

Many of us still struggle hugely to respect others, be ourselves, and accept others for who they are too. Instead we invest our energies in making others wrong and then punish them at some level. We seem so unable to accept, live and let be.

Yet to heal the world we need to start with ourselves. “First cast out the beam in your own eye”, said Christ.

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Being in integrity means facing our own demons

How often has something not worked out for you in relation to another because of an issue with being in integrity? For example, how much do you find you aren’t fully trusting of another and where they are coming from, or for that matter they with you? Do you find you aren’t always fully consistent yourself and maybe don’t always show up quite as you think you ought. A useful test can be how you feel, like a certain discomfort, guilt or even shame.

In transactions with another, often key to a successful outcome is the level of trust that exists. A key part of trust is often the integrity of each. We can get ourselves into all sorts of knots over this. There’s the matter of being true to our values. Then there’s the whole thing about honesty, and whether we quite mean what we say. Sometimes, to get ourselves out of a tricky situation or to get what we want we might make compromises. Then we run the risk of being exposed at some point, or simply having to face up to our own breach of our code. That is of course, if you have one!

It’s a  big issue in public life of course right now, with levels of trust in for example politicians, bankers, journalists and estate agents being particularly bad. In the UK it’s currently really bad for politicians right now, and probably elsewhere too, where apparently a half of Britons think they put their own interests first. However, this also applies to attitudes to different elements of our communities, since there’s also marked distrust of for example immigrants and welfare dependents. Such distrust can also mirror life for ourselves, where in difficult times our trust in others shrinks.

It can be useful however to look to ourselves too. How much does my distrust of others mirror a lack of integrity in myself? In terms of the concept of the Shadow, distrust of others can be a projection. It challenges us to look within and see just how much we are who we say we are. Is there a grain of truth here?

Integrity has three main meanings, according to the OED. It can mean being of  sound moral principles, such as honesty. It can also mean being whole or complete. Thirdly it can mean sound and uncorrupted. Werner Erhard used to articulate a fascinating application, effectively, are you true to your word, are you who you say you are? His call to people was to clean up their act and be authentic.

This really takes us inside to look at where we don’t always show up, where we compromise our values, and create murky situations and leave devastation in our wake. How often do you get into being principled for example, and then cut someone up while driving? It’s easy to preach about others, and not so easy to see it in ourselves. As Christ said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and also first cast out the beam from your own eye before removing the speck from another (he was a carpenter).

It’s very human. We can at one moment feel very pure and whole, and then the next get challenged by something that compromises our values. The universe test us: make a stand for something, and you’ll get tested. Thus it’s so often an ongoing journey and along the way learning more of humility and acknowledging our own tendencies to not always get it as we’d like.

However, in the process we become more authentic and more open to ourselves and to knowing all of ourselves, warts and all. Not for nothing do many spiritual teachers from many traditions teach of purification, of gradually weeding out these tendencies we have to contradict our thoughts, words and deeds.

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Fear of being selfish can limit what’s possible for us

Recently someone told me that she was brought up not to be assertive about what she wanted because that would be selfish. She was taught that “others came first”. In the “me first” society of today that might sound strange and anachronistic. Yet in other cultures, and in parts of Western culture too, it is not uncommon, particularly in older age-groups. Parental and societal rules or injunctions can be introjected by a child and absorbed as their own belief unquestioningly, such that when they are older they hesitate to take a course of action for fear of how they think others might react, or their own sense of guilt at possibly breaking such an injunction to observe what others think is good behaviour. The belief then limits their choices and their ability to advance their own needs effectively and they suffer as a result.

To be selfish is to place one’s own needs well above those of others, or to act in such a way that it negates those other needs. Like many such ethical choices, there are different interpretations of what is selfish. What would be OK with one person might be deemed selfish by another. There may be a collective view of what it means, and then there may be personal ones. The difficulty for some  individuals is that they may limit themselves through an interpretation of selfishness that most others wouldn’t be bothered by. Thus it won’t necessarily serve them.

Unfortunately others can then take advantage of this. It can leave one open to manipulation. Thus if one felt guilty about doing something or was worried about what others might think then those less scrupulous others may then assert their needs at one’s expense. This is often the danger for those who are less assertive or confident, for example.

This is is a good example of where a shift towards personal responsibility and accountability and towards developing self-belief pays dividends. When we identify and shake ourselves loose of limiting beliefs we adopted when very young, we become more able to choose our own beliefs rather than live purely by those of others, and live by values that express who we are. Then we can still act in ways that respect others and their needs but also respect our own too and make choices that can be a win-win, rather than the “they win-I lose” of non-assertiveness. We can be aware of when we feel guilty, recognise where that came from and choose to let it go. Guilt is a messy set of emotions often involving these introjects or out-moded rules and judgements that we took on board and which don’t serve us.

Rather than the word selfishness we can instead hold to the value of respect, where we both value ourselves and others as equally special beings, all God’s creatures and all wonderful. Thus when we approach a decision that affects others a more liberating perspective might be to think of what serves both you and me and all of us, where we all deserve value and respect. Thus we value ourselves and others too.