Smiling became complicated… When was is appropriate, when was it creepy? What if they don’t smile back? Then… I’d feel bad.
Talking to strangers became complicated… What if they don’t want to talk at all? I’d just be bothering them. What if they think I want something from them? I don’t. What if it irritates them?
What’s holding us back?
Humans have been described as social creatures, but, all of a sudden protecting the ego has become a priority. With the rise of technology, there are new ways to market yourselves; and appearances mean a lot. First impressions don’t just exist in real life and in resumes anymore; they exist online, too–a new frontier where appearance perfection requires new skills: humble bragging, conveying authenticity in connection garnering, hiding flaws, and emphasizing “goodness”. We live in a time when people both judge and are scared of being judged. So, they find ways to minimize shame. Maybe it is by investing less effort, and maybe it is by investing less emotion.
It is all about “me” and how I think others perceive me, whether it is true or not. I monitor my actions to minimize judgement and incorrect assumptions, while creating an image that portrays me as the type of person I want people to see me as.
And slowly, it becomes a part of my truth. Some coincidences lead me to believe that I’m not alone. More coincidences lead me to believe that this is just the society that we live in. The power of fear is heavy and enticing; it pressures me into believing this is reality and sweetly tells me that, accepting this as reality will make things easier for me.
It tells me that life will hurt less. It tells me that the pain of embarrassment can be avoided. It tells me, I have my own music, and I don’t need others to enjoy it.
Mencius, a famous Chinese Confucian philosopher of the Warring States Period, had the following exchange with a King of the State of Qi:
Mencius: “When it comes to enjoying music alone versus enjoying music with other people, which is happier?”「獨樂樂，與人樂樂，孰樂？」
King: “Surely, enjoying music alone is not as good as enjoying it with others.” 「不若與人。」
Mencius: “Then, when it comes to enjoying music with a few people versus with many people, which is happier?”「與少樂樂，與眾樂樂，孰樂？」
King: “Surely, enjoying music with many people is more enjoyable than with few people.” 「不若與眾。」
Enjoyment of music is meant to be shared with people who also enjoy it. But fear tells me, “What if people don’t like my music, think it is silly, would rather be somewhere else, think I’m lame?” I’m not actually talking about music right now, but about this fear of judgement. However, I know that this fear is actually my ego talking to me, like a narcissistic parent telling me to be perfect, not to fail, not to be an embarrassment, and that survival in this world depends on how your appearances compare with another candidate. I discovered the narcissist that lives within.
Looking around on the bus, my eyes pass from person to person. Earbuds are in, eye contact is avoided. Appearances. Don’t get hurt. Don’t give the wrong impression. Creepy? Do these people have these thoughts too? Do they know about their resident narcissist?
Knowing mine, I aim to weaken its voice, because by giving it power, I become a fearful of failing.
It tries to scare me away from learning foreign languages, telling me that any mistake I make will invoke judgement and painful embarrassment. But learning from mistakes helps you learn better, and willingness to make mistakes provides more opportunities to practice.
It tries to scare me away from chasing my dreams, using the availability heuristic to tell me that failure is likely due to the lack of examples of success in that field. But every successful profession had to start somewhere.
Music is everywhere; they are in the people who surround us. Maybe in order to dissolve the illusion of silent judgement, we need to take out our earbuds more and notice those who want to share their music. Maybe in order to dissolve this illusion, we need to notice the people who want to hear our music and give them an earbud.