When you are gone, the idea of you remains.
This idea of you is auto-generated (in the hearts and minds of people) through their observation of your words and actions – be it offline or online. Hence, it is partly about your intentions but more about other people’s perceptions.
You may not like or consider the idea that people come to conclusions without first hearing your “intentions”, but when you think hard about it, you can’t blame anyone. This is because it takes a great deal of “intention” (both consciously and unconsciously) to bring about any action.
Which is interesting because you may not always be aware of your intention(s). And, there are instances when you can have multiple intentions about a particular matter – and God help you if they conflict.
So, it isn’t unusual for people to apologise for their words or actions; especially when they know better and can see clearly that their intentions (and consequently words or actions) were not right.
Most people do not appreciate just how fluid and unreliable their intentions can be. So let’s address that with a few examples;
- Your intentions can change and stop aligning with your original intent without your awareness. For example, you might start out aiming to become an Engineer, but suddenly find yourself being drawn to and doing more of art (this is me).
- Your intentions can be influenced by external factors, such as the opinions of others, societal expectations, or cultural norms. For example, you may find yourself bowing before an elder that you do not really respect (this is me).
- Your intentions can be shaped by your environment or the context in which you are acting. For example, you might use eloquent English in a social setting but revert to pidgin and vulgar slang in a private setting, and you may not be fully aware of the switch or why (this is me).
- You may have conflicting or competing intentions. For example, you might want to spend more time talking with friends but also (always) find yourself saying yes to more work and meetings (this is me).
- You may not be fully aware of the consequences of your actions, and as a result, you may not realize that your intentions are contrary to themselves. For example, you might escalate a case of sexual harassment (or abuse) that was reported to you and end up dragging your friend through more emotional trauma from having to deal with what others think. (This, sadly, has been me to some extent.)
- Your intentions can be influenced by your emotions or psychological state. For example, if you are feeling stressed, angry, tipsy, or horny, your intentions might get skewed so that you start desiring to do something bad for yourself and others. Need I cite examples?
- You may not be aware of your own biases or assumptions, which can influence your intentions. For example, you might think all Hausas are terrorists, or that all pretty girls are frail. (I still struggle with this.)
- Your intentions can be influenced by your past experiences or memories, and you may not be aware of how these experiences are shaping your present actions. For example, if you experienced or read a book about toxic relationships you may struggle to trust people on a deeper level. (I read a book.)
- You may – due to lack of tools, time, and opportunity – not be able to fully articulate nor understand your own intentions, let alone communicate them to others. (This is me, sometimes.)
Ultimately, our intentions are like the wind – invisible, changing, and fleeting. However, our actions are trackable.
In fact, it is not mere actions and words that people observe, but the patterns they create. It is the patterns that emanate from the track record of your actions that people use in determining your character – i.e. what you are most likely inclined to do in a given situation.
And, if you are wise and honest with yourself, you will find that it is a reasonable yardstick to follow.
If this made you think about who you really are, then consider these two quotes:
“The eyes of others are a mirror in which we see ourselves”– African Proverb.
“You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.”– Jordan B. Peterson
The big question becomes, “What do you repeatedly do?” and, a follow-up question might be, “Is that an idea you are proud of?”. If none of both answers sit well with you, perhaps it is time to make amends.
So, yes, you should care what people think about you to some extent. Because often you are the one giving off the impression in the first place. Though, you should care more about what you think about your actions because most times, people project their views, biases, and insecurities onto you.
And, this is the reason sitting down to think through and write about your thoughts/intentions, words, and actions – be it in a journal or on a blog – is so crucial if you intend to understand yourself and grow into a better person.
Pro Tip: Try to include your personal stories in your writing as much as possible. It will help you know who you were, (not just who you think you were).
P.S.: If you already write, one way to see your trajectory is to look back at your past writings. If you cringe, congratulations, you’ve grown.
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