Everybody has something to say if you give them the opportunity to speak up. And even when you don’t, opinions from the mouths of others often find a way of presenting themselves.

Should the opinions of other people matter?

When we’re trying to make an important decision in our lives, we often ask for the input of others. Whether it’s because we hope that they will say what we want to hear; or we want them to offer insight that didn’t cross our minds; or we simply trust and value their opinions. And some opinions are unwelcome. That is, we never seek them out. Busy mouths are always looking for something to say, even when it doesn’t concern them.

It seems like it’s becoming more and more difficult to lead a private life. Whether it’s because we choose to live our lives publicly, or because the public (ex. neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and in some cases, even family members) choose to pry into our lives.

So again I ask, should the opinions of other people matter?

I’m guessing that most readers of this blog have one of two responses to that question right now. Either an emphatic “No!” As if to say, “I don’t give a crap what anyone thinks of me, or my choices.” Or the softer response, which is some version of, “It depends on who’s giving me their opinion.”

The other day I was asked the question, “Who has the greatest influence on your life?” My response was, “My parents. Period.” Their opinions matter to me. And I’ve certainly received opinions from people who don’t matter to me, yet their input sometimes weighs on my mind (that’s my issue to sort out, not theirs). Maybe your family’s opinions matter to you. Maybe they don’t. But I’m sure that you care what someone in your life thinks of you. And I’m also certain that someone who doesn’t matter to you has placed their ideas and beliefs upon you.

I worked with someone once upon a time who seemed to attract the judgmental whispers and opinions of many. Big personalities, a term often used to replace the word “annoying,” have a tendency to garner attention that way. I worked closely with this person. And unlike many of our co-workers, I found a likability about this man who caused others to cringe. We became friendly with each other, in a very platonic way. And outside of hallway chit-chat in the workplace, we would socialize over a lunch or dinner on occasion. One day at work, a colleague whom I admired pulled me to the side. She said, “People at work are starting to talk and they think that you’re having a relationship with that person.” I was single. He was not. And I was truly mortified when she whispered this rumored comment in my ear. I think one of Bill Clinton’s many scandalous relationships was big news at the time, and I certainly didn’t want to become the local news at my place of work. For the next few weeks, every time I turned a corner, I was paranoid that people were talking about me. I was young at the time. And I did care what other people thought of me, especially when I knew that “the talk” wasn’t true. Rather than keeping the rumor quiet and contained, I talked about it myself and told people what was being said. I wanted their opinions. Opinions of people who didn’t care about me. I fueled a fire of gossip. And I would pose questions like…

Did you hear what people are saying about me? Do you think I did anything wrong? Should I stop being friends with this person? How is this going to effect my reputation at work? What should I do?

That last question, “What should I do?” When you ask that question of too many people, you’re bound to get MANY different opinions. And MANY different opinions can start to make your head spin. And it will blur your own clarity. Before you broadcast your personal life and issues to the world, ask yourself…

Who can I trust? And does this person always have my best interest at heart?

Am I over-sharing my personal matters?

Am I asking the opinions of too many people?

Are the multiple opinions of others clouding my judgement and making it difficult to formulate my own conclusion?

And if “that’s what she said, or he said” is a phrase used in any part of your story-telling, cut your focus group in half. And then cut it again. There’s no need to concern yourself with what she said, or he said. Worry about what you’ve said. Those are the words you can control.