How to not give a sh*t what people think of you - in 3 easy steps
We all like to think of ourselves as independent individuals, autonomous from the crowd, models of integrity - perhaps even mavericks and rebels. But the truth is that, far from being a solitary mountain goat scaling the precipitous peaks of life, the vast majority of us are just another sheep in the herd, going where the herd goes, doing what the herd does, deriving our identity and our sense of our own value from our place and status within it.
Maybe you long to step up and stand out, but you are afraid of how you will be viewed by those around you. Your social status may not be ideal right now, but won’t it be worse if you separate yourself from the herd? What will people say? What price will you pay for having the temerity to step out of line? What about your financial security? Your boss could fire you! Aren’t you getting ideas above your station? Who the hell do you think you are anyway?!
Nietzsche can help.
Step 1. Understand why you feel sh*t about yourself
We are social animals aren’t we? People cannot live alone - they need community. Living together means becoming one of a multitude. We can’t all be special (or if we are special, we are all equally special).
There is some truth in this, but for Nietzsche there are other more powerful conforming forces at work in us.
HARD TRUTH: Your sense of your own worth comes from others
For countless millennia before the modern period, human beings lived in feudal societies. There were a tiny minority of aristocratic families at the top - the masters - and everyone else who were, if not literally, certainly to all intents and purposes, no more than slaves. For these unfortunates life was (to coin a phrase) nasty, brutish and short. They were almost completely powerless against their masters.
Such was their subjugation that even their sense of their own selves was something conferred by the masters. 'You are a farmer. You are a blacksmith. That is your function and that you will remain until death. In time, your children shall fulfill the same function'. These people were of value only in so far as they were useful to their masters - little more than tools.
Almost all of us are descended from this slave multitude and the whole psychology of only being able to establish our worth through the judgments of others is part of that legacy.
But there’s more…
HARD TRUTH: You have the mind of a slave
The resentment of the oppressed majority has festered over thousands of years and enabled it to launch a subtle psychological rebellion, the effects of which are the foundation of our morality today. This was Nietzsche’s 'slave revolt'. Through their overwhelming numbers, and using religion as a means, the masses inverted the old morality of the masters.
The masters had, quite naturally, assumed that what was good was themselves and that which enabled them to prosper and flourish. What was bad was anything counter to this. The slaves inverted this natural and intuitive scheme and deemed the good to be anything that was good for everyone else en masse - even though it might be personally disadvantageous to the individual – egoism was now a big no-no. The masters' selfish traits were labeled ‘evil’ and the slaves’ lack of power was re-interpreted as a virtue. Gentleness, kindness, pity and selflessness were the new good. Exactly the characteristics that advantaged the slaves.
For Nietzsche this moral scheme still underpins our modern psychology. This is why conformity, modesty and regard for the feelings of others so concern us today - sometimes stopping us from breaking out of our restrictive social positions. Sure, in the past two centuries, the rise of capitalism has created a culture of individualism, even non-conformity, but this is focused on identity rather than morality, which still goes unquestioned. With regard to our morality - selflessness is still at the core. This is the slave mind at work.
HARD TRUTH: Misery is the price of civilisation
We evolved as animals living competitively in the wild. Our loyalties extended only so far as our own tribe, which was little more than an extended family group. Concern for one’s neighbor was entirely alien to these creatures. When we were forced to become a larger, more complex and more structured society it became necessary to tame and de-fang this wild animal. As Nietzsche says, this made us a ‘sick animal’. Sigmund Freud picked up this theme and elaborated it in the years after Nietzsche’s death. He wrote ‘it is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct’
Our natural urges for cruelty, domination and unconstrained sexual expression still burn inside our psyches but the price of civilisation is domestication. Our animal natures had to be put in check in order that a complex society could function. That meant that our aggression, prohibited by society, now had to be diverted, bottled up and turned against ourselves.
But these urges can still be glimpsed. For example, in our fascination with horror and suffering in our entertainment, our obsessions with pornography – still the dominant use of the web, contact sports such as MMA and boxing, schadenfraude (enjoying the misfortune of others) and the relentless everyday passive aggressive behaviour so typical of modern human beings.
HARD TRUTH: You fail at pretty much everything
Okay, not everything, but a lot of things. Almost certainly you are not the person that you want to be. This is because changing one’s self is way, way harder than it seems.
For Nietzsche, humans have very little free will, despite the impression we have of enjoying choices in our lives. We are animals, highly automated, with a complex inner world of drives we are barely conscious of. To become better, we must train ourselves as animals - animals equipped with only a modicum of free will - and with due regard for our many hidden psychological drives.
So why do you feel sh*t about yourself?
Because you are dependent on the judgments of others for feelings of adequacy.
Because you are programmed to denigrate your own needs and your own value in favour of others.
Because you are a wild animal, forcibly tamed, and unable to express its natural urges without severe censure from the society in which you live.
And because you are fallible and can’t achieve the better you that you crave.
What can be done?
A great deal. In the next several posts we will explore the 3 easy steps that will get us to the point why we will no longer give a sh*t what people think of us.
NEXT TIME: Step 2. Learning to feel good about yourself
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