“I don’t care about what other people think of me”.
You cannot not care about what other people think about you.
As social animals, who evolved over many millennia of tribal affiliations, our reputation in our community / the groups to which we belong is everything to us.
A good reputation solidifies our status in our community and thus our access to resources (and mating opportunities, boosting the chances of our survival, if we are to use evolutionary science terms).
A poor reputation on the other hand (whether due to an actual or perceived lack of competence or lack of ethical integrity) shakes our psychological stability as it can be perceived as a threat to our survival:
Think in terms of our primordial fear of our community ostracising or turning “its back” on us in light of us falling short of communal expectations of competence or ethical integrity.
In fact the degree of our ethical integrity is closely linked to the fact that we are subject to constant criticism, gossip and evaluation from others which makes sense if one considers that as social animals we are also moral beings.
The great Greek philosopher Plato in Book 2 of his best-known work The Republic offers a compelling story illuminating how our morality and reputation go hand in hand.
According to the story which is told by Plato’s brother Glaucon in the book, when given a magic ring, a shepherd named Gyges becomes invisible and anonymous.*
Through his invisibility he seduces a queen, kills her king, and takes over the kingdom.
Plato argues that the Ring of Gyges- invisibility and anonymity- is the only barrier between a just and an unjust person.
Indeed it would seem more than reasonable to ask ourselves why act morally, ethically and respectfully (if at all) if we were truly indifferent as to what others’ thought of us, our actions and behaviour?
In the absence of an audience, we are not as altruistic and moral as we often tell ourselves.
We are all (at least all non-psychopaths) sensitive to how others in our community view us, including whether they accept us or not.
We care so much to the extent that when boundaries are crossed (e.g in case of slanderous statements against us) we bring libel actions in court to stop others from tarnishing our reputation.
Gossip, feedback and other people’s opinions of us can often serve as a useful gauge for observing fluctuations in our reputation, whether we like it or not.
Pretending that we don’t care about other people’s opinions is more often a manifestation of virtue signalling (“I’m not susceptible to gossip, I’m better than those who are) than a reflection of how we truly operate, think and function.
Paradoxically, what happens in reality is that we want others to think that we don’t care about what others think of us since being perceived as susceptible to other people’s thoughts or gossip is often viewed as a weakness.
For this reason, we are encouraged to embrace the reality of our social nature and think and act accordingly for the betterment of our lives and the lives of the societies in which we belong.
* It is highly probable that Tolkien was inspired from Plato’s Ring of Giges when coming up with the One Ring in his blockbuster books “The Lord of The Rings.” In that sense Tolkien’s Frodo character seems to have been inspired from Plato’s Gyges.