What do People Say about You?

Imagine that you can listen in to what people are saying about you. Perhaps, like me, you can. Maybe you have keyboard critics all over the world who leave reviews and comments about you on all major platforms. If so, do you read them? Why or why not?

I was recently updating my books page, and I visited the free “Grandpa Smiles” version on Google Play. I didn’t know there were so many reviews, and I started reading them. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of praise. Then I stopped reading, even thought their words were very kind. It felt wrong to spy on what they were saying.

I don’t often read reviews, after learning the hard way that it’s demoralizing to read hateful comments. Constructive criticism can sometimes be helpful, but purely nasty remarks serve no purpose other than to destroy/cancel someone else’s creative work. Reading abusive critique affects my ability to work (mostly for free) day after day toward long term goals. I become distracted from my purpose and even begin to doubt that it’s worth putting my heart and soul into this journey. But, even if a critique is valid, reading what others say about me feels uncomfortable.

Curiously, I felt equally uncomfortable reading positive reviews by strangers, partly because I was eavesdropping! If they wanted me to hear their comments, my contact information is easy to find – it’s even inside the very book that they were reviewing. When they post their thoughts on the review page, that’s not really an invitation for me to join in. That’s the place for readers/viewers to talk among themselves. So, I stopped reading.

It was enough to see at a glance that my special book is appreciated and has given comfort to people who needed it. I can hold that in my heart and remind myself that what I do matters, and that I make a difference. On days when I am exhausted, in pain, or discouraged, I can remember that my efforts are worth it. But, I really need to stay away from seeing what people are saying about me, and I think this is good advice for all areas of my life- and yours as well.

What do people say about you, and why should you avoid listening? To answer that question, we must ask ourselves whose approval we live for. If we live for the approval of others, who are these “others”? How much power do we give complete strangers? How much power do we give to acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family?

“…take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.”
– Ecclesiastes 7: 21-22 KJV

That quote is from a section of the Bible that is labeled “Limits of Human Wisdom”. I’m not sure if I interpreted what I read in way that is standard, but I what I took away from this is that it’s not wise to listen to what people say about us. We are all guilty of unfair and unkind thoughts, sometimes uttered aloud, and other times wisely kept to ourselves. When we eavesdrop on what others say about us, we may not like what we hear, but I think more importantly we need to understand why it’s damaging to let the opinions of others influence us- even if they say something nice.

The Bible seems to describe being cursed by others as part of an ordinary human experience. Humans both curse and are cursed by others, and apparently these curses bring us no wisdom. What they do, is distract us from our purpose.

In this way, I believe that unless someone is speaking intentionally to us, we shouldn’t eavesdrop on positive comments either. Why? Because by doing so, we elevate “what people think” above wiser sources of motivation. If we are motivated by the approval of others, we are standing on shifting sand. If we are motivated by a higher calling that no person can distract us from, we stand on rock.

Advice, suggestions, and warm praise are positive things, but should never take the place of our own voice. Stay true to your path, no matter who attempts to destroy you. And when you overhear praise, don’t let it distract you. Our purpose is not determined by the limited wisdom of humanity, who often gets it wrong, even when they’re saying good things. 

Don’t do more of this, because others say so, or less of that, because others say so. Ask people you trust for advice when you want help, and read the words of those who inspire and motivate you. But resist listening to random, unexpected or unreliable opinions, some of which weren’t even intended for us to hear.

Watch me paint this art from Grandpa Smiles in 48 seconds (time lapse)

There’s wisdom in the advice from famous people who say that they never read their reviews. Replace the words “read their reviews” with the phrase “listen to what people say about them”. Apply this to your life in any way that it fits. Trust yourself. Lean on a higher power, not the limited wisdom of humans. We’re all just muddling through life; we can get it wrong. If you know you’re doing what’s best for you, put on your spiritual noise-cancelling headphones and keep dancing.