What the Neighbors Think

I suspect there are more of us out there than we might expect who grew up with parents who had one level or another of preoccupation with what the neighbors might think. There are any number of reasons that happens. None of them are legitimate. Whatever the real reason for neighborly preoccupation was – narcissism, competitiveness, or a convenient way to control the kids – I can assure you that the neighbors really had no healthy reason to be concerned with what you and your family were up to. You didn’t know that, however, and despite the fact that you know that now you still probably have lingering corners of your mind where that message hides.

The key to the freedom we all deserve as adults is to stop caring what other people think. Part of getting to that point may be realizing that nobody is watching, anyway. As kids it was reasonable to think that others were watching us, even if it was only the crabby old guy down the street waiting for us to step on his lawn so he could jump out and start yelling at us. We are adults now, and the old guy is long dead. Nobody is going to scream at us about stepping on their lawn, and even if they do we can handle it. Unless we are sacrificing virgins in the backyard or sword fighting naked with the boys from the golf club, nobody cares.

If you catch yourself with that old feeling of disapproval, I have found the best practice is to refuse to yield to it. If you want to practice your tuba in the front yard but hesitate because you worry about what people think, blow anyway. If you want to go jogging with your shirt off but worry that your belly looks like claymation animation singing the alphabet song, jog anyway. If you want to tell your beads on the front porch but worry someone might think you are a member of the religious secret police, pray anyway. Each time you do it anyway, it will get easier. I promise.

What Makes a Right Choice?

Sometimes, knowing right from wrong seems remarkably easy. At other times, it seemsright-vs-wrong impossibly difficult. When it does seem difficult, how do we know what choice to make?

Looking to the law is not the answer. Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s wrong. For example, suppose your spouse needed a life saving drug that you couldn’t afford and you had exhausted all ways of getting assistance without any luck. If you walked into the pharmacy and noticed the drug just sitting on the counter, you might steal it to save her life. While the action would be illegal, it isn’t clear whether it would be wrong. From some perspectives, it would be wrong. From others, not so much.

right-and-wrongIf tomorrow murder were made legal, would you kill somebody just because the law now said it was okay? Nothing changed about the action itself, just the laws around the action changed. Apartheid, slavery, and a host of other horrible systems were at one time legal. Some people used their legality as an excuse, others saw that participating in such a system was wrong no matter the laws surrounding and supporting it. Therefore, while laws can help us determine right from wrong, the cannot define it.

Suppose your best friend was having a heart attack in your car. Would you speed to the hospital, breaking the law, or continue driving the speed limit? Most of us would speed. One way to explain why we would speed is that speeding would be life-giving, while continuing to putter along at the speed limit would be life-denying. That is an excellent question to ask when trying to determine right from wrong. Is it life-giving or life-denying? If it’s the former, it’s right; if it’s the latter, it’s wrong. That’s true no matter what the law, or any number of “experts,” might say!