Two ways of shaking it off

You often hear that you should not pay attention to what others say about you. It is just unhelpful. People will talk about you–just perhaps as you also talk about others–regardless of what you do. There is always something that you have not done well, that others may have done differently, or that shows that “you’re not really who some think you are.” So why should we consider what the many think, as Socrates asks Crito, the one who always values public opinion? Shouldn’t we, as Taylor Swift may say, Shake it off?

There are certain differences between Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off” and Socrates’ “do not pay attention to the opinion of the many,” of course. The first one seems to be the affirmation of individuality. The others don’t get you because you are “superior” to them; if it is not about superiority, then it is about difference, and you must affirm your difference, claim it; the others envy you, and so any thought coming from them is worth nothing. The second one does not emphasize individuality, but rather the fact that the many cannot offer expertise on all things. Instead of listening to them, one should follow the opinion of the reasonable people, as Socrates may say, for they would perceive things as they are. 

However, in both these accounts, one thing seems to be prevalent: we do not really care about the others, but rather about us. If the others’ opinions touch us, it is because we love ourselves, our image, and this image depends apparently on the others’ good opinion. Or perhaps we want to do good, to always act correctly, and so we do not care about what some poor mind thinks of us, but we always look for the wise, simply for our own self-interest. The poor mind, as far as we are concerned, could just non-exist–it would make no difference for us.

But here is another version of shaking it off: it’s not that you do not care about what others say or, more importantly, about them. In fact, you care about them so much that you completely forget about you; you shake off everything that they may say, good or bad, for any of their utterances brings forward their presence, a call for you to respond. It is their face, as Emmanuel Levinas may say, that helps you to shake off everything. When their face reminds you of the responsibility you have for the suffering of the other, your responsibility for your own “face,” so your concern for what others say about you, disappears. 

The synonym for this “shaking off” is love–the love of the sunflower for the sun, which sun a human sunflower finds in the face of any other. 


About Tavi's Corner

Blogging on ancient philosophy, communist persecution in Romania (including deportation to Siberia), and Orthodox Christianity. I've translated books from Romanian to English, and I also write about them from time to time.
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