Reassurance for the Over-thinker
“No one notices us as much as we think they do. We might fail, but we can be sure that no one would care very much about it.”
When we were born we likely had carers who were enthralled with us. Maybe mum made sure food was available when we felt hungry. When we pooped our diapers or puked on our clothes, a fresh set was probably on hand. We were the primary focus of their attention.
Maybe we had instructors that cared about teaching us valuable skills. They also focused on us, motivated us, and praised us when we excelled. Maybe the nice man at the supermarket lets us have candy on every shopping trip with dad because they find us adorable.
So when we grow up, we might first be deluded into thinking everyone will pay that much attention to us. We might have become insecure about our height, so we suffer from thinking strangers are laughing at us. We might be worried that our voice sounds odd, that our stomach looks big, and that everyone at work thinks we’re a joke because we used the wrong preposition last week when we were describing a thing.
Although we have no real evidence of what the truth of the matter is, we still strongly believe that our less impressive sides have been found out. But Alain de Botton suggests that to liberate ourselves we should consider a mental exercise that involves examining how long we spend thinking about other people's foolishness or merely their existence.
We might be startled by what we find. Imagine we're waiting in the ER, we're here because in the past two days we've purged everything we tried to eat. We might be embarrassed because we imagine the person sitting across knows what’s going on with us. But they might not have even noticed us at all because they’re preoccupied with their hemorrhoid.
We might be concerned about how our partner reacted when we brought up our new favorite cartoon, we think they don’t respect us anymore because we’re still into cartoons. But they’re bothered about finishing the report at work so they can have enough time to see the cartoon with us.
de Botton says if we use our mind as a guide, we certainly get a more accurate and less oppressive vision of what is likely to be going on in the minds of others when we meet - which is precisely not very much. When our friends are hurt we offer sympathy, so if we were visibly hurt in the streets, we should be confident that others would stop and help.
No one notices us as much as we think they do. But, we shouldn’t suffer from being ignored, we should accept it. It should give us the courage we need to accept more foolish adventures; to start a new business, to accept a romantic invitation, or to ask a question at the end of a lecture. We might fail, but we can be sure that no one would care very much about it.