I keep coming across some variation of a statement that goes something like this: “It’s none of my business what people say about me.” Now I’ve discovered that this puzzling observation apparently comes from the original material girl, Madonna. Having read that maybe I’m not supposed to care what others think and say about me has given me pause—several times. Being the long-time pleaser I am (truly I can trace the need to please to my childhood in the 1940s), what do I now do with this old, well-ingrained habit that is as much a part of me as the very skin I wear.
How do I please thee, let me count the ways. I want everyone to like me. I agonize over not disappointing others. Perceived failure to meet the perceived expectations of others quickly morphs into perceived rejection. Oh, what a terrible web I weave. When I see others behaving in a similar fashion, I shake my head in disbelief. My own habits worn by others don’t make sense to me at all.
If I began keeping a log of all the times during any given day that I trouble myself over things I’ve said or done or haven’t said or done, I could dig myself a mighty deep hole. I’ve learned of recent (can I really say I’ve learned anything when it hasn’t resulted in a change of behavior?) how useless is the pursuit of unpacking the past—as if it were a suitcase of things that have somehow made me comfortable over the years. In the last few years of her life, our mother enjoyed the Sunday sermons of a well-known Houston preacher who each week shepherds well over 40,000 souls at his gospel-of-prosperity church. One of the illustrations I heard him use several times was the image of the person trapped in the past, carrying fears, grudges and regrets around, like old clothes in a suitcase. Stop lugging around all that stuff. Stop opening that suitcase and loving each piece of its contents. As we watched, I thought, well, he’s got Mother pegged. Ah, but he had me pegged too. My own old suitcase remains ready and waiting, but maybe I’ve begun to believe that it holds little of use to me.
So, too, with troubling over the future, as I do especially when I wake in the night, unable to go back to sleep. I revisit the day, or two days ago, something I said or did, and somehow tomorrow carries a sucker punch that takes my breath away. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) Lying there in bed in the middle of the night, I try to breathe myself into Now, and amazingly, at least for awhile, I let go of regret and anticipation.
It may be none of my business what others say about me. But I do care. I just don’t want to care so much. Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest child, Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980), supposedly said to someone at a dinner party, “If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.” Funny, but it carries a truth that sends shivers up and down my spine. The next time I’m ready to sell someone down the river, let me be reminded that it may be none of their business, but it sure doesn’t help the progress of my soul on its journey. And so it is.
None of My Business—Albuquerque, New Mexico (June 15, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis