On Solitude And The Opinions Of Others

Most Americans avoid solitude. We crave contact and approval from others. But there are things we can only gain from being alone. There’s something revelatory about being alone for an extended period. We learn things about ourselves that we simply can’t when surrounded by others.

Arthur Schopenhauer once said “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”

If you don’t get to spend time alone with yourself, disconnected from this fallacy you think is real life, I recommend it. Sooner rather than later.

One of the things I realized during my recent time alone is that there is a very, very (infinitely) small universe of people whose opinion of me and what I think or do actually matter to me.

Without trying to be unnecessarily cruel, if you’re one of those people, you already know it. If you asked yourself if you are, you almost certainly aren’t.

This is very different from the idea of “I don’t give a f&%k.” It’s also very different from the idea that I don’t like someone because their opinions of me don’t change how I think, feel, experience my faith or interact with others.

It’s entirely possible to like someone personally who isn’t a contributor to the fullness of your life. It’s also possible to value someone’s opinion of you or your actions or thoughts without particularly liking them.

We’ve all had teachers or coaches who impacted us and our development in some important way. For many athletes, that relationship with an influential coach may have been very contentious at some point. I know of several of my peers who “hated” a coach in high school whom we all now recognize as a major influential factor in how we’ve approach sport and life in the years since.

Those people in my life whose opinions of me and my thoughts and actions I value have something unique. They have personal capital invested in and with me.

They have my respect, but not always my love. They offer something that builds me up and makes me better. When they offer a negative opinion of something I’ve said, done, written or otherwise put out in the world, it matters to me because they’ve earned the right to do so.

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Because of that, I will listen. That doesn’t mean I will blindly agree or accept what they tell me at face value. Again, that’s part of the relationship. They don’t get offended when I question their input because they realize something important.

If they didn’t matter to me, I wouldn’t care what they had to say.

The truth is, I really just don’t care what most people think, beyond a general intellectual curiosity. Unless you truly matter to me and are a contributor to my life, my intellect, my emotional health or my journey with God and Jesus Christ, or my general spiritual journey, what you think of me doesn’t matter.

Not. One. Iota.

And that’s okay.

Far too many people (almost everyone) allow themselves to be swayed or affected by the opinions and commentary of people who have no vested interest in their success and add nothing of value to their intellectual, emotional or spiritual well-being.

Too many people haven’t taken the time to genuinely ask themselves important questions. Who am I, really? What truly matters to me? Who do I love and why? What principles and beliefs actually matter to me?

There are many others. Too many to list here. I have mine, you, no doubt, have yours.

Most people allow their internal dialogue to be driven by outside forces. Some of those matter, but the vast majority don’t. When you are alone, disconnected from the constant flow of news, social media and the thousands of other sources of “random chatter,” things quiet down and you can actually hear the voice that matters most. That voice never lies.

Solitude has allowed me to weed out the random voices that don’t matter. If you don’t weed out the voices that aren’t a reflection of your authentic self, you’ll never get to meet that self.

As for me, I’m going to keep in mind the people whose opinions of me and what I think and do matter. I’m going to listen closely to them when they share their thoughts and allow them to sharpen me and make my life fuller.

As for everyone else, I’m going to detach from the human emotional need for approval and to be right and try to experience life and relationships in the present.

I’m almost certain that will be better for everyone and a heck of a lot more fun!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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