The fear of public opinion; what others think about us is something very real to everyone living in our modern age. The fact that we all grow up in a community, live in a neighborhood and interact in the society at large, puts some pressure on all of us to some extent. We feel the burden to please others on our shoulders. We are mindful of what others think about us.
“To change the world, one has to ignore its residents.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Moreover, we all have an ego. Our ego desires that we be accepted. Our self-esteem needs to be reassured of public acceptance. We all one way or another aspire to create a public image of ourselves. Feelings of shame, guilt and ostracism are universal. We will do everything possible to run away from such feelings. We don’t like to feel ashamed. We would rather conform than be shamed.
As a result, we are always on guard, trying to be on the lookout for any dent on our carefully molded image. Even though we are all obviously imperfect, we strive to carefully shield this just to avoid the shame. Shaming is one of the most detrimental forms of punishment. Everybody has an inbuilt instinct to run away from shame. This has contributed in no small manner to the power of public opinion over us.
Since shame comes mainly from the people we know or interact with, it leads to a kind of phobia. We automatically run away from it, because we don’t want to face the shame. This is especially true from the community where we live. The fear of public opinion is fueled even more by the realization that I am still coming back home. I have got to come back to this same community. That realization that I still need to meet these people again, I need to live among them, work among them and interact with them, intensifies the fear of public opinion.
“Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself; it requires us to drink other men’s thoughts, to speak other men’s words, to follow other men’s habits.” – Walter Bagehot
Again, this concretely has to do with the fear of being shamed. We are most likely less concerned in a situation when we do not need to come back to a given community, city or society. People who realize that they will not be apprehended by a certain group of people would feel freer than those who know for sure that they are going to be recognized the next day by their neighbors.
Apart from shame, another factor that is responsible for the fear of public opinion is the feeling of guilt. This is another human feeling that is extremely destructive. Guilt alone could be dangerous if a person burdens himself with that feeling without the help of others. Guilt can eat up an individual like cancer.
When other people’s voices are added to the accusing voice of guilt, then it can totally annihilate the individual. The destruction can be great indeed. It could both be emotional, mental or even physical. That is why in a lot of ancient cultures, guilt was used as an instrument of crime prevention, along side shame. Normally people who commit crimes are only needed to be taken back to their communities, towns and villages to be publicly exposed. That in turn is used to scare and frighten other citizens to discourage them from commiting similar offenses in the future. That is the power of public opinion being used as an instrument of justice.
“There are certain times when public opinion is the worst of all opinions.” – Nicolas Chamfort
Some offenders in other cultures are publicly executed or punished as in some Islamic nations today. So this is maximizing the fear of public opinion to prevent crimes and uncalled for behavior. Apart from the extremely destructive effect these actions have on the guilty party, families and relatives of such people suffer the consequences for generations to come.
Another reason why people are fearful of public opinion, is the fear of being ostracized. No one wants to be an outcast in his community. Nobody desires to be ostracized from his neighborhood. Nobody wants to be ostracized from his city, country or from his society. Recognition and acceptance are some of the basic fundamental human needs.
We all need to feel accepted. It is normal to want to be recognized. It is an inherent feeling inbuilt in us that we should be recognized. Both those basic human needs are completely destroyed when you are ostracized from your very family or community. Shame, guilt and being an outcast, fuel the fear of public opinion.
As we can see, the fear of public opinion is so powerful, because it is inherently connected to the fundamental human needs of man. The need to be accepted, the need to be celebrated, the need to be recognized, the need to be honored, the need to feel important, the need for worth, the need to be understood and the need to feel needed.
Because these needs are so basic to man, psychologically we don’t want to live without them. It is difficult, especially when you need to go against a large population of people who are all opposing you. In such cases you need a lot of will power and inner strength to simply survive it. No wonder public opinion has become a powerful control factor in our world today.
However, the problem is that once you fall under that influence of the fear of public opinion, you become even more susceptible to control, bondage and psychological slavery. The fear of public opinion ends up enslaving you, it binds you hand and foot, so much so that you still lose those same fundamental human needs of acceptance, celebration, recognition, honor, importance, worth, understanding and the feeling of being needed.
“Don’t waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.” ― Paulo Coelho
In extreme cases, the fear of public opinion could lead to ALLODOXAPHOBIA which comes from the Greek words ‘allo’ meaning different, ‘dox’ meaning opinion and ‘phobos’ which comes from the Greek god of fear. People with the fear of opinions live in constant fear and anxiety of hearing people’s opinions about them. This is now the disease stage of public opinion. The diagnosed stage of the fear of public opinion.
At this stage the individual is not simply conscious of public opinion, but he has become intensely aware of both the real fears and the presumed fears of public opinion. It has becomes a mental and psychiatric disorder. It could get to the point where an individual refuses to come out of the house, because of the fear of what people think about him. It could get as bad as a person not willing to talk to any individual around them for about a year or two or three. This situation could lead somebody to want to just remain indoors all the time. It could even get as bad as not even going to take a shower or going to the grocery store.
Thank God that this extreme manifestation of the fear of public opinion is not what can be seen on a regular basis with ordinary people. However, the consequences of the fear of public opinion are bad enough even without allodoxaphobia. Even for ordinary people who are conscious of public opinion, the fear of what others think about them is a constant companion. The pressure and the control coming from constantly being considerate of what others think about me, is a burden not desirable to carry through life.
“A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion.” – Grantland Rice
A lot of people are extremely concerned about how they look. I was 35 years old before I realized that some ladies would not come out of their bedroom without having their makeup on. To have them come to open the door for you in the morning is a whole challenge. They keep you waiting at the door for about 15 minutes to an hour, because they want to look perfect before they open the door. That tells us how powerful public opinion is. I learnt this lesson the hard way.
I flew into South Korea with one of my assistant pastors who was an older lady. My bag was accidentally taken to her hotel room. After realizing this fact, I decided to go to pick up my bag, because I had my personal belongings and clothing inside. When she realized I was the one at the door, she refused to open the door. I was bewildered and I asked why she wouldn’t open the door for me to take my bag. Her excuse was absolutely outrageous to me. She said she had washed off her makeup for the evening before going to bed, and she was not going to put it on for the night, so I had to wait till the next morning to get my bag. As a gentle man, I had to go and exercise long-suffering till the next morning.
Another aspect of the fear of public opinion is people worrying about what others are saying about them. We don’t like people to say bad things about us. Many people suffer because of what people say about them. Many are angry and offended when they hear that other people are talking about them in their absence. In actual fact that is a form of hypocrisy. In actual fact, we all talk about other people in their absence including that person that is complaining.
That is a fact of life that nobody can change. People talk, just as we talk. The best thing you can do about people talking about you behind your back is to let them talk. Backbiting, talking about others in their absence is about the cheapest or readily available form of entertainment people have. They don’t need to pay for it. They don’t need an iPad or the Internet. They just need a companion and that is all. That is why we all engage in it.
“It’s not the public opinion of what you are that matters, but the private personality of who you are!” ― Israelmore Ayivor
Let’s admit it. Most of us are often in a bad mood, wandering about looking for what to think and do. Gossiping is about the only readily available option that is there for everyone. It is also the cheapest. Any talk of our dislike of gossip and other people talking behind our backs, is at the least hypocritical, because we all do it. My advice to people is that they should not lose their sleep over people talking about them in their absence, because on that same day, they too have spoken about other people in their absence. Let people talk. Simply move on with your life. People are going to keep on talking anyway.
“If any man despises me that is his problem. My only concern is not doing or saying anything deserving of contempt.” ― Marcus Aurelius
A lot of things that we actually get troubled about, complain about and be discouraged about, are really things that we should just smile about. Some people have taken this to mean a fear of public opinion. They don’t like people to talk about them. They suffer, they are discouraged, they are disillusioned and at times they are even angry. It is much easier to live when you decide to pay less attention to public opinion, especially to what people are thinking about you.
“I won’t ask you to tell me who has spoken ill of me, but I would like to know who has spoken favorably.” ― Santiago Roncagliolo
We shouldn’t think that our neighbor’s opinion about us has to be right or right in our own understanding. Friends, a lot of things in this world are not right and not too many of them are going to be right very soon so what do we do in that situation? We should keep on living and doing our best and enjoy life. We should disregard other people’s opinion. As the case may be, everybody has the right to their own opinion.
“What the public wants today and what it sees as important down the road will almost certainly not be the same.” ― Gary Schmitt
At this juncture, I would like to begin to give you some more concrete steps on how to overcome the fear of public opinion. Victory over which would enable you to live a more enjoyable, peaceful and satisfying life.
- Pay less attention to what people think or say about you. Rather focus on developing your personality. Make sure you know what you want in life. Do your best to put your best effort into realizing your dreams and goals. In short, live for yourself and your future, rather than living for others who don’t care about you. At the same time, keep on developing yourself in all facets of life, especially in social skills which will greatly help you to be socially relevant as you pursue your life goals.
“There is nothing that makes more cowards and feeble men than public opinion” – Henry Ward Becher
- Recognize the fact that you are different, just like every other person you are unique. Embrace your uniqueness. Learn from others. Be the best you can be. Know that where you are different from others, is where your advantage lies. Your difference is not a reason for rejecting yourself. It is rather a reason for celebrating yourself. People only celebrate your difference otherwise you would be the same as others. So focus on developing your personality rather than bothering and being concerned about public opinion.
“Your difference decides your success. Your similarity decides your comfort, but your difference from others decides your success and how God will use you. – Mike Murdock
- Don’t seek people’s approval at any cost. Stop compromising yourself just to get people’s approval. Focus on accepting yourself. If you would accept yourself and be at peace with yourself, it would give you much more joy than what you could ever receive from others. No matter how hard you try to please others in seeking their approval, they will never be fully happy with you, because there is nothing you can do that would be able to fully win their thoughts and minds.
“Don’t destroy yourself by allowing negative people add gibberish and debris to your character, reputation, and aspirations. Keep all dreams alive but discreet, so that those with unhealthy tongues won’t have any other option than to infest themselves with their own diseases.” ― Michael Bassey Johnson
- When you hear negative words about you, please don’t keep thinking over and over about them. Try as much as possible to get them out of your mind and world fast. When you sit down and continuously ponder over what has been said, those words sooner or later will have dominion over you. They will control you, push you around and dictate your happiness or lack of it. If anything is written in the newspaper about you or shown on TV, make sure you don’t become their broadcaster. Get it out of your mind and out of your world as fast as possible.
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ― Steve Maraboli
- Never let any man exercise such a huge authority over your soul as to make you hate him. Another aspect of the fear of public opinion is that we get angry at people who do things that we don’t like. That anger will most of the time lead to hatred if we are not careful. Some even brag of the fact that they are able to hate others. They say, I will never talk to him again, he is cut off from my life, I will never relate with him again. So people are thinking of it as if it were a great victory for them, but really it is a defeat. Never let any man exercise such a huge authority over your soul as to make you hate him. You are also thinking about the person you dislike, hate or are angry with. So long as you are thinking about him, he controls you. You don’t control your life at a time like that. You are not in charge. That person you don’t like has just subdued you. You have become a slave to that which you constantly think about. The best thing for you to do is to release and let go.
“I will no longer let the fear of vicious comments or replies stop me from speaking what I believe to be right. I will also never give a message that everybody will agree with. I know that even my most faithful followers will never agree 100% with what I say. I also know that they know that and are fine with it. I am done letting the bullies win. They won’t anymore. Not here.” ― Dan Pearce
- When you are feeling the pain caused by others to you, try to refrain yourself from drastic actions or responses. Choose rather to meditate, pray, read scriptures, go out for exercise, have a work out, or go and do some good to others. Move your mind, attention and focus from the hurt that has just been inflicted on you onto something more meaningful. That way you don’t need to keep holding on to the painful experience. Instead of being overly concerned about what others think or feel about you, a better idea would be to be more concerned about what you feel and think about yourself. Devote your time into building up your self-image. When you know who you are and God’s plan for your life, then it will no longer matter to you what others say about you.
“Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate. ― Henry David Thoreau
- One thing you must know about people who talk about you, especially in a derogative manner is that if they were busy with their own goals and missions in life, they would probably not have time for you. So when you next hear of people talking about you, know that they are basically goalless, aimless and visionless people. They are meant to be pitied instead of getting angry with.
“We live in a society obsessed with public opinion. But leadership has never been about popularity.” – Marco Rubio
- The next time you hear people talk about you, recognize that you can only talk about somebody in front of you. That is why the Bible calls it backbiting. For you to backbite, you must be seeing the back of the person, which means you are just following him. Only those who are behind you talk bad about you. Those who are ahead of you don’t even know you are there. They are focused on where they are going. People who talk about you are normally those who are on the same level as you or lower than you. Those who are ahead of you don’t have time for you, talk less of talking bad about you. So it is a form of compliment to you when people talk bad about you. They are trailing your back because you are ahead of them.
“Backbiting is the attempt of one who is incapable of doing better himself.” ― Hazrat Ali Ibn Abu-Talib A.S
- Sometimes when some people talk about you it could be a sign that they are attracted to you. At times some people don’t know how to best express their affection, so they are only left with doing the only thing they know, talk and criticize, but in their hearts they admire you.
“I won’t ask you to tell me who has spoken ill of me, but I would like to know who has spoken favorably.” ― Santiago Roncagliolo
- When you are under an intense attack of others talking about you, do something more practical. Make a list of all your strong points and then another list of all your weak points. Compare both lists, make sure you know yourself better than the enemy knows you. Once you understand yourself, you don’t need to wait for others to tell you who you are. There is no need for anybody to open your eyes to who you are, because you already know yourself better than they do. Meditate on those strong points you have on daily basis, while you also work on reducing the list of your weaknesses on a weekly basis. Work on a particular weakness for a week before you take on another one, that way while others are busy talking about you, you are busy perfecting yourself.
“If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope my effort today has been a blessing to you to know how to resist the influence and fear of public opinion. I hope you become a better person after reading this article. I pray that you become free as you likewise give out freedom to all those around you. I would like to encourage you to share this information with those people you know that might be suffering from the fear of public opinion. Let us together make our world a better place by giving others the gift of liberty.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CHURCH AND NATION
By Pastor Sunday Adelaja.