Schopenhauer on the Opinions of Others

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

So far we have discussed three major themes in Schopenhauer’s The Wisdom of Life, that the greatest source of happiness is one’s self, and this is pursued through self-actualization of our particular gifts made possible by good health. We now turn toward one of the greatest obstacles toward personal fulfillment, the over-evaluation of the opinions of others.

“By a peculiar weakness of human nature, people generally think too much about the opinion of what others form of them; although the slightest reflection will show that this opinion, whatever it may be, is not in itself essential to happiness.”

In the previous post, we discussed that each of us has a combination of genetic inheritance and life experience which is uniquely our own, resulting in a world view that no one else could possibly have. It should not come as a surprise, then, when others are unable to understand our particular mode of living. In a very real sense, we see and live in different worlds, and the philosophy that we have constructed almost always serves as a poor blueprint for the world in which another lives, and vice versa.

“True appreciation of his own value will make a man really indifferent to insult.”

The more sincerely we honor our own path the less stock we put in the opinions of others, for he who respects himself has no need for the respect of others. Often, the opinions which are quick to be shared are by those who are dissatisfied with their own lot, and they project that dissatisfaction toward us. When in truth, a worthwhile opinion will rarely leave a man of value, for he is far too concerned with the construction of his own happiness to spend thoughts commenting on yours. Those quick to give an opinion rarely have anything worthwhile to say.

Remembering that you are your constant companion, and that your happiness stems from the fulfillment of your ideals, we look inward for the source of our gratification, for, as Schopenhauer tells us:

“Besides, other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness — a fanciful happiness perhaps, but not a real one.”

In an age of social media, we have become addicted to the instant gratification of likes on Facebook. When feeling down, one can simply post a sentence or two on their wall, and idly wait for the acknowledgment to come pouring in. We are tacitly training ourselves to find contentment in the praise of others, thus robbing ourselves of the emotional self-reliance to find that contentment within one’s self. Schopenhauer quotes Tacitus when he says:

“The lust of fame is the last that a wise man shakes off.”

This is one of the greatest obstacles we face and serves as an honest metric for one’s own development. Schopenhauer offers a simple paradigm shift to help navigate this burning desire:

“Not fame, but that which deserves to be famous, is what a man should hold in esteem.”

Rather than the pursuit of acknowledgement, pursue that which deserves acknowledging. Even the loudest praise goes unheard in private life. When we focus on the greatest source of our happiness, what we are, we craft our virtues while removing our vices, and our outer life will reflect our inner development. The irony of this growth is that the more we become deserving of the praise we subsequently receive, the less significance it will hold.

In becoming free of the opinion of others, we give ourselves the freedom to live a life of our choosing, the life that only we can live, and, in so doing, we receive the greatest gift we can, ourselves.

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