I find myself sitting here on the couch watching Oprah’s Oscar Special. When you’ve recently lost your full time job, you find that you have a lot more free time to do such things. And it’s ironic that as I watched this special, and watched Oprah interview Viola Davis, that I had what Oprah herself refers to as an “aha” moment.
Viola Davis was talking about what kind of impact people criticizing her, her looks, and her career has had (sometimes coming from other African American people even). She said something that made not one light bulb go off in my head, but about 1,000 of them. She said that she realized by caring what those people thought, by entertaining the criticism, she was putting a value on that because she was listening to the words of people who didn’t even love her. She decided she was no longer going to listen to things people had to say that didn’t love her. Such a great thought right? She went on to say that by listening to these people that had no stake in her as a person and had no love for her, that she was thereby devaluing what those people in her life that did love her were saying. I had never thought of that before! By giving people who try to bring you down and criticize you the time of day…by listening to them you are essentially saying to the people who do care about you and have invested their time and their love in you, that what they think doesn’t matter. I don’t think a light bulb moment can even fully describe what those few sentences meant for me.
My whole life I’ve been a “people pleaser” by definition. And of course, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with caring about others and wanting to treat them with kindness. But I think it can be very easy for that line to get blurred and for that to turn into never wanting anyone to dislike you. You never want anyone to say a bad word about you. This is where what Viola was talking about comes into play. My whole life I’ve been scared that when I walked into a classroom people were talking about me and the way I walked or the way I looked. I’ve been teased for my hair, my slender frame, my cup size, and my limp. I would sit in the back of every class I ever took (even in college) so that I wouldn’t be constantly worried the people sitting behind me were criticizing me.
Even now, in my late twenties, I still have trouble not walking by a group of people and worrying that they’re saying something negative. I never realized though, that for all these years when I was so concerned about what negative things people either were saying or just what I thought that they were saying, I was negating all the positive things those around me had been saying. Those that love me. My parents telling me I’m smart. My family telling me I was beautiful. My friends telling me how funny I was. I completely pushed their words out, took away their meaning and chose to give complete strangers more of a voice than anyone close to me had. I think Julia Roberts put it best in Pretty Woman, “sometimes it’s just easier to believe the bad.”
But starting today…I’m not believing the bad and I am listening to the good. I am believing the good. Thank you Viola.