Why do we care what other people think?
Don’t kid yourself. We may like to think that we’re rebels, that we’ll never go mainstream or bow to popular opinion, but somewhere inside, we all care. We care what the other rebels think. We care what the other hipsters think. We care what the mainstream thinks. Now, whether we care because we want to conform, or because we don’t, is another matter entirely.
In the course of my work, every day, I talk to people who are accused of crimes. Sometimes they’re pretty big crimes, crimes that make even the rest of the inmates uncomfortable; crimes of cruel, stupid violence; sexual crimes; crimes against children. Sometimes they’re very small, crimes born of poverty, addiction, or powerlessness; petty thefts and threats.
I am not a judge, not in any sense of the word. But regardless of this, I am amazed at the number of inmates I talk to who want me to KNOW. Regardless of how large or small the allegations against them, they want me to know that they’re not guilty, or that they did it for a good reason, or that they were framed. Mostly they want me to know that they are not Bad People.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about my work, but when it comes right down to it, it makes no difference to me or to your eligibility whether you are guilty or not. I tell people “I’m not here to judge you in any way”, or “that is important information for your lawyer to have, but for my purposes, I just need to know what the charges are”.
It’s also important to remember that just being charged with a crime does not make someone automatically guilty. I know statistically that many of the people I see will, in fact, be found guilty; but some will not, and it’s not up to me to make that call.
But when it comes right down to it, they want me to know that they are not Bad People. For some reason, it is important to them to make me, someone who they will (God willing) never see again, believe that there is good in them. I have no influence whatsoever with the outcome of their trial. I will never be called as a character witness. I do not decide what their punishment should be, or for how long it will be. I have no impact whatsoever on their destiny.
And yet, it’s important.
We all care. When I get dressed in the morning to go to the gym, I wear gym clothes. Why? Because that’s what’s expected. It’s “what people do”. When I get ready for work, I try to look tolerably neat and professional. If it was up to me, I’d wear my flowy hippie weirdo clothes all the time, but in the interest of conformity and societal expectation, I tone it down and have just a tiny soupcon of weirdness around the edges. If I didn’t care what anyone thought, I’d probably be out of a job right quick.
Non-conformists care whether people think they’re conforming. Hipsters don’t want to be labelled as hipsters; to be identified with a group makes you no longer a radical rebel. The minute you’re hip, you’re lame by name. You can’t like anything that anyone else has ever heard of – you have to have liked it before it was cool. If you do like something, you can’t just like it because it speaks to you in a meaningful way. Everything Must Be Ironic.
At the other end of the spectrum are true conformists, constantly worried that if they don’t latch on to the same trends as the majority of society, that they will be labelled as outcast.
There’s a happy medium in between, I think, where most of us live, comfortably enough, in which we are aware of societal expectations; aware that we ARE in fact constantly being judged. We choose our battles, stand up for our bottom lines, blur our edges a little bit so that we can exist safely in our worlds and still maintain our personal integrity.
If we didn’t care what anyone thought, no one would ever fall in love. If we cared too much what everyone thought, we’d never create anything new or different.
I’ve completely lost track of the point I was trying to make here…
Ah! Here it is: everyone cares a little bit.