Do you care too much about what other people think of you?
We all want to be liked. We seek admiration from our friends and other people we know. That’s not necessarily bad. It can motivate us to eliminate annoying habits and treat other people nicely. But it can easily become a problem. We all run the risk of putting too much value on others’ opinions, especially negative opinions. This can warp your thinking, distort your decision-making, and destroy your confidence—and even your faith.
With social media, this unhealthy tendency has gotten a mega-rocket boost. Many teens become anxiously wrapped up in managing their online reputations. They obsess over their numbers of followers, friends, favorites, +1s, reblogs, retweets, likes and comments. And online, people tend to spout off mean, nasty comments even more freely. Absorbing yourself in that noisy, ugly world can give you terrible insecurity, melancholy or worse.
Have you ever fallen into these traps? If so, consider some great advice from a very wise man, who understood a lot about human nature long before any of us even picked up a smartphone.
King Solomon said this: “[T]ake no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee” (Ecclesiastes 7:21).
OK, I understand you don’t have servants—but think about Solomon’s point. He is addressing your attitude toward what others say about you, particularly your response to criticism. Don’t go asking around for what people are saying, he advises. “[D]o not be overanxious about their evil reports concerning thee,” Lange’s Commentary explains; “do not be curious to hear how they judge thee”—be it in person, in texts or online.
Here’s the thing: When you go fishing for comments, you’re looking for praise. You want to hear good things. You crave what will puff you up. So even if you get what you want and do hear praise, the result is just vanity.
But as this verse says, that probably isn’t what you’ll hear. If you’re snooping around trying to learn what people really think of you, you are going to hear something bad. And that is an excellent reason not to snoop! This verse says there are things you are actually better off not even hearing. When you overhear that cutting comment, what can you do about it anyway? It will only leave you frustrated and needlessly upset.
Like it or not, people will “curse” you. That is life. So what? “Take no heed.” Even when you do happen to hear a nasty remark, don’t set your heart on it. “Do not take to heart everything people say,” the New King James says. This is hard—but don’t get upset. Be like a deaf man to it (e.g. Psalm 38:13). Act like you didn’t even hear.
Obviously, you need to hear constructive criticism. You must be correctable and willing to make changes that will make you a better person. Solomon isn’t telling you to be deaf toward your parents’ correction. He is warning about a trap of your human nature. He is telling you to close your ears to snippity, gossipy chatter. And in our hyper-connected world, there’s a lot of that flying around. Opening yourself up to that can turn your life into an echo chamber of people’s offhand opinions! And it’s easy to take offense at the slightest thing and turn pinpricks into civil wars.
The next verse gives additional wisdom that puts other people’s comments in perspective: “[Y]our heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others” (verse 22; Revised Standard Version).
Admit it. You’ve said bad things about others—things you hope they don’t hear. You shouldn’t—but sadly, sometimes you have. When you hear someone saying something bad about you, instead of getting upset, take it as an opportunity to reflect on your own mistakes in that area. How easy it is to say negative things about people, whether you really mean it or not. How hurtful it can be to another person when you look down on them—especially when you voice that to others and damage that person’s reputation.
When you hear someone “curse” you, criticize you, pause, get a grip on your emotions, and then humbly think about how you have “cursed” others. Instead of getting angry at the guy who ridiculed you, get a little irked at yourself for those times when you have ridiculed someone else. Use it as an opportunity to strengthen your resolve to avoid backbiting and gossip, to say only kind comments about others, to protect their reputations.
“[S]peak evil of no man,” the Apostle Paul said, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish” (Titus 3:2-3). We all make mistakes, and it’s easy to judge others harshly. But there are plenty of things about you that could be judged and condemned just as easily! Remember that, and you’ll have more patience for the person who says something unflattering about you.
Most all of us need to be less concerned about what other people think, and far more concerned about what God thinks. That is a major step toward maturity! “[A]m I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” the Apostle Paul asked. “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10; English Standard Version).
Follow Solomon’s excellent advice. It is sure to spare you a lot of nonsense and heartache. When it comes to negative comments, don’t listen to the haters, listen to Solomon!