To many, that’s an important question. What will people think if I make a mistake? What will people think if I don’t measure up? What will people think of me?
For some, concern over what other people think can weigh heavily enough to cause inhibition, constraint, and distress. Those who worry over what people think usually assume that what other people are thinking isn’t good – that it’s critical and harsh and, therefore, to be feared.
I used to feel that way quite often. But I’m grateful that studying Christian Science has given me a considerable degree of freedom from being overly concerned about people’s personal opinions of me. I believe that God, divine Mind, showed me two essential truths that moved me forward: (1) What other people think, in terms of their opinions, is usually not important. (2) What God knows is all-important.
Obviously, there are occasions when it’s sensible to be receptive to the views of someone else – a family member, friend, or well-meaning colleague. And we shouldn’t be oblivious to how we affect the feelings of others, as consideration, unselfishness, and morality are important components of wise action. But to gain freedom from an obsessive concern with what opinions other people might hold about us liberates us to experience what God is knowing – and that brings wonderful results for all concerned.
For me, the starting point for my healing derived from an endeavor to see a basic truth of Christian Science – that God, the one divine Mind, is the source of all right thinking. The Bible tells us of God, “[H]e is in one mind” (Job 23:13), and Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, says in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “The starting-point of divine Science is that God, Spirit, is All-in-all, and that there is no other might nor Mind, – that God is Love, and therefore He is divine Principle” (p. 275). This great spiritual fact regarding the allness of God, who is Mind and Love, helped me realize that in truth, the only real thinking going on is good and loving, as it is derived from God.
I learned through the study of Christian Science that, in truth, it follows that there are not many minds, competing, criticizing, or holding negative, harmful opinions. In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy says, “In Christian Science mere opinion is valueless” (p. 341). Therefore we can regard as invalid and powerless the belief that there is any mind separate from God, holding a harmful opinion.
In other words, what other people think or the opinions they hold about us have no power if those thoughts are not in accord with goodness, with God. So, provided that our thoughts and actions are in accord with God, divine Principle, we can be free from fear, concern, or worry if others seem to regard us in negative ways.
It’s not enough to know these truths in a merely intellectual way. I’ve found that taking time to prayerfully establish my spiritual identity as the child of God, divine Love, protects me from fear of what others might think. Aligning my thought with spiritual truth acts like a coat of armor. As Eddy says in Science and Health, “Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you” (p. 571). Webster defines “panoply” as “a full suit of armor.”
To gain freedom from concern over the opinions of others frees us to truly be the individual whom God created. We don’t originate thoughts or ideas but reflect the thoughts of divine Mind, God, who is constantly expressing Himself through each of us in infinitely creative ways that can only bless. Eddy states: “The intercommunication is always from God to His idea, man” (Science and Health, p. 284).
Our Master, Christ Jesus, faced criticism and the harsh and hateful thoughts of others. The Gospels state that Jesus “knew their thoughts” (Matthew 12:25, Luke 6:8) when he was surrounded by people who held limiting, critical, and even destructive thoughts about him. But Jesus exercised God-derived discernment and intelligence to know how to regard those thoughts and what to do in those circumstances. Sometimes he was simply extricated from the situation (see Luke 4:30). Other times he was guided to say something that would help those holding unkind opinions (see John 8:1-11). Whatever the specifics, Jesus proved his oneness with God, divine Mind, and his dominion, enabling him to fulfill his mission.
In following Jesus, we, too, can gain dominion, and be free from fear in regard to what others might think.