Wednesday, January 28, 2009

From the Outside Looking In

By Nichole Giles

Every so often, I have a day when I feel like a bug under a microscope, the rest of the world watching my every move, waiting to see what I do next. Most assuredly, I have no idea what it feels like to be famous, or have paparazzi following me everywhere I go so they can speculate on what I could possibly be doing at the grocery store. (Um, buying groceries, duh!) But still, there are times when I feel the crushing weight of glaring, squinty-eyed people who are just waiting to jump on the rumor train.

Not that there’s any reason, mind you. I’m as boring as they come. But some people will find things to talk about even when you’ve done nothing more than change your hair color or bought new shoes. For example:

Says one lady to another:

“Uh. Did you see those shoes she wore to church on Sunday?”
Second woman nods. “Um, hm. I did. They must have cost at least fifty dollars!”
First woman scratches her chin. “And her hair! She must have had it done by an artist the last time she was in New York.”
Second woman shakes her head. “No, too recent. Must be L.A. I wonder how she affords to look like that.”

First woman leans in for a classic gossip whisper. “I heard they inherited an enormous amount of money from a long lost dead relative.”
Second woman leans to meet the first halfway. “Well, I heard the husband’s related to royalty of some obscure country in the Caribbean. So that must be true.”
First woman rolls her eyes. “How would it be to have millions of dollars and never have to worry about money again?”
Second woman fans her face. “Oh, I’ll tell you. I’d be wonderful. Don’t you wish you could fit in her shoes?”

(Disclaimer: The previous scenario is totally and completely made up in my head, but resembles conversations I’ve eavesdropped on periodically. Okay, I admit it, I’m an eavesdropper!)

Don’t you ever wonder where people get that kind of information? When I was in junior high, one of my teachers constructed an activity where she’d give one student a piece of information, then have that student whisper the information to the next student, who then passed it on, and so forth, until the very last person in the class had received the message. Every single time, the end message bore no resemblance to the beginning information. Funny thing, isn’t it?

And if the beginning message was inaccurate in the first place—say, the person doing the passing on got their information by standing outside the living room window and watching things transpire inside—no one is safe.

From the outside of the glass, an observer might see two people running around, screaming, and then falling to the floor wrestling. That observer would probably be inclined to call the police and report a domestic disturbance.

But from the other side of the glass, the same person might have witnessed a family playing something like hide-the-cell-phone, the “it” person running through the house screaming, “I got it! I got it,” and then other family members tackling him or her to the ground to wrestle for the final phone rights. No domestic disturbance there.

It’s all about perspective.

As easy as it might be to pass judgment on a person because of the size of their house or the type of car they drive, where they shop or how they chose to dress, ask yourself when was the last time you stood inside that house? Spent time with or even talked to that person? If you have a question, don’t you think you should go ahead and ask rather than speculating on the hows and whys of things?

Maybe the owner of the house can afford it because he or she has five jobs. (Not impossible, by the way.) And maybe the car wasn’t as expensive as you think. Maybe the person shops sales—refusing to ever pay full price—so his / her family can afford better quality goods. And maybe they dress well because someone in the family spent lots of years working retail, taking fashion merchandising classes, and studying the art of fashion expertise.

Or it could be the other way around. Maybe the family chooses to live in a very small house because by doing so they’re able to escape the drudgery of being obligated to pay the bank every month. And maybe they drive an older car because it’s dependable and gets good gas mileage. Perhaps they shop at thrift stores and big box chains because they truly like the treasures they find there. In fact, maybe the hunt becomes more intriguing for them—especially because the seasonal merchandise is limited and finding the right sizes requires skills and diligence. For some people, style is a state of mind, and they’d rather be comfortable than trendy. But they have the things they need, and are by no means poor.

Do you ever wonder what people are really thinking when they look at you? (Or scowl, or sneer, or smile, or wave?) I used to. Really. I used to wonder, and worry about those very speculations. Throughout my life, I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve overheard rumors about myself (Yes, people, rumors ALWAYS get around to the people they’re about) that have claimed I inherited large amounts of money…(he he) and other rumors claiming I had no grocery money and was starving to death—which, by the way, is how I got so skinny. And did you know I suffer from an eating disorder and an exercise obsession? (Ha ha, again.)

Anymore, though, I’ve come to understand that I can’t control the thoughts of others. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. Really, why does it matter what they think anyway? As long as I know the truth, and as long as I’m happy with myself (and my husband and children) what does it matter what anyone else thinks? Unfortunately, someone will always think badly of me, and someone else will always put me on an undeserved pedestal. And it’s okay. Because when I get to the end of life, the thoughts of those people won’t matter nearly as much as what I think of myself, what my husband and children think, and what God thinks.

In the meantime, I’ll try to remember the same about the people around me. I don’t know their circumstances or the reasons behind their choices. And it’s none of my business, anyway. Thank goodness! I have my own custom picked issues. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.


ali said...

Very well put Nichole. Unfortunately, I DO worry about how people see me. Strangely, as I've grown older I worry about this more than I did when I was younger. I thought I was supposed to get better, more confident, with age? Ugh.

I too, have been on the receiving end of misplaced rumors and speculations. They were not benign rumors either, but hurtful and damaging. Many people believed them and I lost friends (or so called friends) because of it. BUT I also learned precisely who my friends were and that has been of great value to me.

We really should all just keep our opinions to ourselves. Like you said, we all have our own issues to deal with, right?

Cindy Beck said...

You make an excellent point here. Gossip can be so damaging, and what ever the topic, it's seldom correct. Life would be so much better for all concerned if people would simply remember the Disney axiom (was it Thumper who said it?): "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Karen Hoover said...

Wow, Nichole, you sure nailed it. This is something I've been on the receiving end of myself lately so it's been on my mind a lot. Thanks for the great words. They remind me of what's most important.