I used to have the urge to defend myself when others attacked or criticized my ideas. “I need to say something about this!” But now, I think, what’s the point? It’s not like you can change another person’s mind. When’s the last time someone said the following?
“Well, John and I disagreed about X. But John had such a good argument that he made me change my belief system. In fact, I’m going to change my entire life. John was so right!”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard anything like that. People disagree with you all the time at work, at home, at the gym, etc. Why do we feel the need to defend our ideas? We’re held captive by our own ideas and try to convince others that our ideas are the best.
What a waste of time. Why are you concerned with other people’s opinions, views, and actions? You don’t need to explain why your ideas and actions are the best.
There’s no such thing as “best” so and so. What works for you might not work for someone else. You need to be free of your ego. You don’t need to prove people wrong. You also don’t need to show people how smart you are.
“Be yourself” is very simple advice. But it’s very hard to put into practice. The world constantly wants you to behave or think in a certain way. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best:
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
The wiser you are, the less you feel like showing it to others. For years, I didn’t understand why one of my mentors asked me questions about business when I was still in college. He was highly successful on all levels but never wanted to show how smart he was.
Looking back, I had no clue what I was talking about. But he never told me my answers were wrong. Wise people never think they know it all.
Not Everyone Will Agree With You
Since I gave up defending my ideas, I’m free to think and do whatever I want. I know that I’m driven by my core values and morality. I don’t do things that harm the common good. As long as I abide by those rules, I have no need to explain my ideas.
Every week, people email me about my articles. Most of them are great. Sometimes people agree with the ideas; sometimes they don’t. But most people are respectful. And I’ve often learned new things from my readers.
But some people try to prove me wrong. That’s a very different mindset, and I immediately spot those types of people. They simply want to defend their point of view. I used to respond to a lot of those emails. But I simply don’t have the urge to engage in a battle with them. We’re only trying to defend our ideas. Also, I can’t convince them. If I could, I would’ve done it with the article. I say what I have to say, and beyond that, there’s not much to say. So what if someone disagrees? They have every right.
But when people behave like idiots, sometimes I tell them. One guy recently said that I should stop quoting Marcus Aurelius because he was an emperor that killed people. Oh really?! It doesn’t require a genius to understand that historical figures did a lot of wrong things.
Today, we live in a transparent society and you can’t do that stuff. Ancient philosophers said and did a lot of horrific things. Does that mean we should discard their good ideas? Of course not. We can learn from everything. That’s how I look at it. If others don’t agree, so what? It doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It also doesn’t mean the other person is right. If you stay humble and keep challenging your ideas, you will keep learning. That’s what matters.
Don’t Become Attached To Ideas
A lot of people defend their beliefs because they become their beliefs. When someone attacks their ideas, they feel like it’s a personal attack. They need to defend themselves. If you catch yourself getting angry when someone attacks your ideas or beliefs, tell yourself: “It’s just an idea. It’s not me.”
It’s simply not worth it to get angry. That’s why I’m not attached to my ideas. If I come across something that works better, I abandon my old ideas. I’m loyal to family and close friends, but not to ideas. Ideas are cheap.
Everyone can come up with them. I’m concerned with what works in practice. If you have a better way of living or doing something, I will listen. But ultimately, I decide to act on it or not.
And you, my friend, can do your own thing. Everyone is different. The problem is that everyone tries to convince us that their beliefs are the best. They want to make you something you’re not. Never give in. Always be yourself. That’s the only honorable way of going through your life—as yourself.
Note: This article was excerpted from my book, What It Takes To Be Free