How we let opinions of others block our freedom

Gwen Randall-Young

There is a pervasive force in the minds of many that strongly influences what they say and what they do. It is a powerful, controlling influence that limits their freedom to be who they truly are. If it sounds like a form of brainwashing, it just might be. In this case we “brainwash” ourselves.
I am referring to the incredible power of “what people will think.”
It starts very early. Even a child in kindergarten or grade one will not wear certain clothes if he thinks the other kids won’t approve. They learn early not to put up their hand in class unless they’re sure they have the right answer. Nobody wants to be wrong.
What we fail to teach and model in our society is that just because our point of view may be different, that doesn’t mean we are wrong. With such a strong emphasis on being “right”, conforming, doing, being and saying all the “right” things, it is difficult for individualism to thrive. Yet within each one of us is that core of inner wisdom, and there are times when we think differently inside, than what we express outside, particularly when the prevailing opinion is contrary to our own.
If a group of women is gossiping about one who is not there, and you feel uncomfortable, it is not the easiest thing to say, “I don’t feel comfortable with this discussion, let’s not talk about her behind her back.” And how many times have you accepted a social invitation when you really didn’t want to go, because of your concern about how it might look, or what others will think?
While we can generally express anger or disappointment with close family members, many people bury these feelings rather than sharing them with a friend or colleague, out of fear about what the other will think of them.
Peer pressure is not just for teenagers. While many young people are much more brave about expressing contrary opinions, often they conform just as much when they are “within” their own group. Even in the most off-the-wall non-conformist groups, there is an internal pressure to conform, if only to bizarreness.
The only way that we can free ourselves from these invisible walls that restrain our free expression is to begin taking risks. Begin to trust that each one of us has a unique perspective on life, and it is only through sharing them that we all can get a sense of the big picture. Your inner voice may be asking you to express something that may be a catalyst for positive change and growth within your social group. That is what evolution is about, and that’s what we’re here to do.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.