I was pondering all of the things that keep people from reaching their maximum potential, trying new things, or otherwise giving themselves the permission to be free from fear of the scrutiny of others. I admit that I have been guilty–in the past and sometimes even now–of concerning myself far too much with how others would interpret my actions, and ultimately what they would think of me. Will they think I’m a bad person? Will they think I’m crazy? Will they think I’m stupid? Will they think less of me? Will they laugh at my ideas? And the list goes on…

The ultimate question that we’re asking ourselves when we go through these types of machinations is, “Will there be an undesirable consequence for the decision to express myself honestly?” Since we can predict that the answer to that question is often “Yes,” most of us become masters at disguising our true selves and ideas in favor of whatever we perceive as socially acceptable. When we do this, we effectively eliminate an entire host of possibilities, solutions, and means of self-expression. It’s like clipping your own wings.

One question that I used to grapple with is, “How can I balance the desire for acceptance (and its benefits) with being true to myself.” As many times as I asked that question in various situations, the answer was always the same. There’s really no way to balance the two in situations where your core inclination is contrary to social acceptability. Eventually, I came to understand that it’s as simple as being willing to suffer the consequences of not following the status quo. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we cannot possibly be at our best if we are denying ourselves, our ideas, our feelings, or our opinions.

Confidence And Authority

Earlier this week, while Heit & I were listening to music in preparation for our new, weekly music version of The Axiom Amnesia Theory, I remarked that I really liked one of the vocalists because she sang with such authority and confidence. Heit’s response was, “That’s how your’re supposed to sing.” As I reflected on this, I thought about how this is not only true of singing in a literal sense, but it’s also true in a broader context where “singing” represents letting the purest parts of ourselves shine.

When it comes to our ideas and opinions, we should present them with the authority and confidence of knowing that we’ve taken the time to research and become knowledgable on the subject matter. Now, if you haven’t taken the time to research, that’s a completely different situation. Far too often we see people who are confident and passionate about nonsense, in large part, because they have failed to do the necessary fact-finding footwork.

Us As Experts & Ideological Change

If we have made ourselves “experts” by virtue of our dedication to researching and understanding the subject matter, this remains true whether or not other people recognize it. Even if we have missed the mark with our conclusions from time to time, at least we’re taking part in the critical thinking process. And, as long as we are open to consideration of other perspectives that can potentially be incorporated into our own ideologies, we have the option to modify our positions as need be. It’s not always about being “right” from a definitive perspective, but rather about being as right as we can be, given the information we have on hand at any given time. As we learn more, we should expect an evolution of our ideas to take place.

I have often reminded people that every significant ideological change I’ve ever made started with a discussion (or reading) the viewpoint of someone with whom I disagreed. Consequently, I welcome disagreement when it is representative of fact-based critical thinking. It challenges me to question my own ideas. The fact is that a solid position can stand up in the face of opposition, so we shouldn’t be afraid of having our ideas “attacked.” It is by vetting our ideas with good, solid criticism that we can see whether they stand the test of scrutiny.

“Who Are You Calling An Idiot?”

This brings me to the way that people approach discussions. They feel personally attacked when someone criticizes their support for a political candidate, for instance. It’s time to grow thicker skin and be confident in your position. I’ll use a recent exchange I had with an Obama supporter as example. She was very upset about our criticism of President Obama in our recent article about the hypocrisy related to his campaign donations. She accused us of telling lies and twisting the facts, but she was particularly upset that I said, “Barack Obama seems to have a lot of people spellbound, and his means and methods are not as obvious as Romney’s.”

Unfortunately, when people view themselves as being on the “side” of a certain politician, that person can do or say just about anything and it doesn’t make a difference to the supporter. More scrutiny needs to be given to all politicians. From my view, it’s not being an Obama supporter that makes people spellbound and ignorant, it’s being a blind follower–I’d say that about any blind follower. See, in this situation, the focus shifted from the material facts of the circumstance (whether Barack Obama deserved the criticism we gave him, based on the evidence we presented), to how she felt about the criticism of peoples’ support of Obama–essentially the “you’re calling me stupid and I am offended by it” position.

So what if someone thinks you’re an idiot because you have a different view! Do their silly name-calling diversionary tactics make you an idiot just because THEY said it was so? For the record, we didn’t call her names, although that was what she fully expected to occur based on her voicing her opinion. My point here is to be confident in your fact-based positions at which you’ve arrived through critical thinking. Don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked from the issue at hand.

Worry Less, Fly More

Bringing this discussion full circle, we should all worry less about whether someone is gonna laugh at us or have a negative view of our ideas. It takes courage to put your ideas out there to be scrutinized in the first place. It takes courage to try something new, and fail while you’re in the learning curve. There is risk involved in being your best at any given time. So, you can play it safe, and probably do reasonably well. Or, you can stop worrying about the B.S. and have an opportunity at personal greatness.

It seems that we all want to fly, but so many of us refuse to try. Or, maybe it could be better expressed as, we want to fly, but when we limit our tries to attempts that fit inside the box of social acceptability, there’s not much chance that we’ll ever soar. There are consequences to making the choice to be true to yourself, but they’re not all bad. I challenge you to fly!