“Don’t Care About What Others Think” Is Terrible Advice
What others think of you will have an absolutely huge impact on your life, if your boss think you’re not competent — even if you are — well, guess what, you’re not getting that promotion you’re after.
If your teacher thinks you’re slacking — even if you’re not slacking — due to how you present yourself and/or your attitude, they will give you worse grades.
I have a small story about this. As you can see, I’m writing in English, but it’s not my first language. I’m from a bilingual home, and since age 5 I can read/write/speak in both Portuguese and English.
When I attended high school, in Portugal, I used to be late to morning lessons often, due to reasons this article isn’t about.
One of the lessons I was systematically late for was the English lesson. I grew up very poor, wore badly fitting and old looking clothes, so my physical aspect was sloppy at best.
Sloppy looking + systematically late for class makes me part of a stereotype of a poor performing dumb student, even though I had been fluent in English for over 10 years at that point, and the contents of the lesson were things such as the verb “To be” — hardly challenging.
As the date for the class’s first exam approached, the teacher proudly told me — in front of the whole class — that she would have no problems with giving me a bad grade for my bad performance. I acknowledged her assertion and shrugged it off, the chances of a bad performance in that case were literally 0.
On the day of the test, I again arrived late to class, but the exams had not yet been handed out, so the teacher let me proceed.
I finished the test in about 10 minutes and handed it in, she again reminded me that she’s not afraid to give me a bad grade, and said I could leave the room and go have an early break.
A few days after the test, the teacher hands out our results, I had the highest grade in the class, every single answer was correct, and I was immediately accused of cheating by both her and some other students.
It was only until I had a complete conversation in English with the teacher that she realized that I was in fact fluent in the language.
This is the power of a stereotype, of putting someone in a box, of an assumption. It’s runs very deep in our brains and causes tremendous bias.
Stereotypes and putting people in boxes are imperfect shortcuts to conclusions, the real world has too much information to process, so our(lazy/efficient) brains decide to rely on less data to reach a conclusion as fast as possible. Is someone wearing a hoodie that obfuscates their face? They might want to hurt you, avoid at all costs! is the best answer your brain can come up with in time to maybe save your life.
When you see a tree, you don’t see a tree, you see a trunk and some leaves, and your brain quickly goes “tree!” even though you missed 99% of the details and the fact that every single tree looks different. You simply can’t analyze every tree you see, so your brain comes up with boxes/abstractions to put things into to save itself the hassle.
Stereotypes are a shortcut to save resources, you physically cannot analyse every possible situation in your day-to-day life.
Stereotypes and sorting people into boxes aren’t going anywhere easily. They act on a subconscious level, meaning the majority of people aren’t aware of them.
If you dress sloppily, you’re immediately put in a different box than someone who dresses well, and just this will affect how others perceive you. This has a huge effect on what you end up doing with your life. If society at large places you in any given box, you’re going to end up there whether you want to or not.
The first time I wore a well-fitting suit I noticed an enormous change on how complete strangers behaved differently towards me, a suit represents a plethora of positive things. People that wear suits are important, so you get treated like you’re important, people will listen to you more and you’ll hear “sir” more often(not followed by: please leave the premises).
Now the thing is, those positive thoughts happen even if the person wearing the suit is neither of those things.
In the book “Influence: the power of persuasion” the author describes such things as Click whirr responses. Things like this are used heavily in marketing and sales, because they work on people in a subconscious manner, and are mostly universal.
To ignore other people’s opinions is to put aside millions of years of evolution, and to put aside the collective knowledge of an entire civilization and society.
Other people’s opinions matter a lot(if you want to live in society).
How to change boxes?
If for some reason you find yourself in the box of a bad stereotype that causes a lot of negative bias, and you want to change it, it’s incredibly hard. Attempting to go from one box to another too rapidly can easily put you into the unstable box, another box you don’t want to be in.
The first box you’re put in is a person’s first impression, and it’s incredibly hard to change.
How to get less negatively-biased feedback
I say less because every single thing has multiple layers of bias, what you want to say is biased by your interpretation of data, what you actually say is biased by your word choice, and what is actually understood is biased by the person’s interpretation of the words you chose. That’s at least 3 layers in a single spoken or written phrase, it’s why communication is so hard.
There’s just as much positive bias as there is negative, positive bias is used by sales professionals and it’s something that psychopaths often use to their advantage. The suit example is a good one, wear a suit, and positive bias flows your way because you fit in the box of people that wear suits. Positive bias can be used to your advantage, but too much of it will make you blind.
A non-native English speaker once used the word black to refer to one of our co-workers, simply because he: a) wasn’t aware of the negative connotations of that word; and b) He didn’t know any other words to use.
He was promptly labelled racist by another person that was in our group.
People that have a hard time fitting in are less likely to get positive feedback ever, the reason for this is because you’re likely creative and/or an outlier, meaning you don’t fit in a box that most people can put you in, which makes you unpredictable.
People don’t like unpredictable, so you go into the unpredictable box, you don’t want to be in this box. You won’t be liked. If you’re not liked, it doesn’t matter what you can do, you’re basically not part of society, and likely to end up hanging out with other unpredictables.
What took me a long time to learn is: learn to fit in a box, not by cutting off parts of yourself, but to bend and fold just a little, to accommodate your outlier behavior or skills. As time goes on, feel free to unfold and show some parts of you that stick out of the limits of the box, over-time you create your own box after earning trust and respect of those around you, the people that can identify and respect your out-of-the-box-ness will, and the ones who can’t(the majority) will rely on their first impression of you. A predictable person.
How to know who to listen to
It’s not black and white, you can’t ignore everyone, but you also can’t listen to everyone. Each person you listen to will give you pointers you can use to base your final decision.
Depending on who and where they are, you can assign percentages relating to their credibility.
Does this opinion come from someone that occupies a place in society that you’d like to be a part of? Then this person has more credibility, and their opinion should have more weight.
If you’re pursuing Olympic cross-country skiing, and your very unfit friend gives you tips to get there, the credibility here is <10%. However, if you happen to meet and talk to Marit Bjørgen — a retired cross country skiing Olympian that took 114 individual victories, this advice should have a weight of 60–90% in your decision making process.
There is hardly ever a 100% weight, because in the end everyone is different, so one person’s advice won’t work for everyone, and in the end, the decision is yours, and so are the consequences.
If a bad friend’s advice gets you in prison, it’s not his fault, it’s yours. He didn’t make the decision for you, you simply gave it the wrong weight to base your own decision on.