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On not caring what others think
Jul 5, 1996

I've read several of your columns, and it seems one of your great secrets seems to be that you're really and truly over caring what other people might think, in particular what their negative thoughts and judgements might be. Could you discuss this? How did your faith contribute to the development of this very healthy attitude?

Response from Rev. Pieters

Thank you for the compliment, but I have to tell you that my therapist and I had a really good laugh over your observation that I'm "really and truly over caring what other people might think, in particular what their negative thoughts and judgements might be." One primary characteristic that drove me into therapy was caring too much about what other people think! Ask any of my friends: I'm a champion people-pleaser. If I have developed any ability not to care what other people might be thinking, it truly does come from my faith. I believe deeply that God loves me and is with me every step of the way, and so I can believe in the possibility of miracles and hope against all odds. My faith in God, as I know God through Jesus Christ, empowers me to be who I am. God's love empowers me to do everything I can to create the conditions for healing of my mind, body, and soul. But on another level, even with that faith, I still worry that others don't like me, or appreciate me, or approve of me. But I've learned through experience that this is often based on my misinterpretations of others' actions or words. I don't really know what other people are thinking! So I'm learning not to worry about what they may be thinking. For example, when I was first a pastor, a man got up and walked out of a sermon I was giving. I immediately took it personally, and worried through the rest of the service that I'd said something that so offended him that maybe I had turned him off to church completely, even though there were plenty of others sitting in the church seeming to enjoy everything I was saying. He approached me at social hour to say that he had to make an emergency trip to the bathroom, and was so sorry to have missed the rest of the service. So his walking out of my sermon didn't have anything to do with my sermon or me! I learned a valuable lesson about how I can misinterpret other people's actions or words. I learned that I am not a mind-reader. Other people's behaviors, and even their words, can be mis-interpreted, particularly when I'm in a negative or pessimistic mood. Terry Cole-Whitaker wrote a book called, "What You Think Of Me Is None of My Business." There's a lot of wisdom in that title! Maybe one of the greatest ways I have learned not to care what others think of me was coming out as a gay man, and working through my internalized homophobia, through a loving community of faith at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). It was there that I learned that God loves me just the way God created me. It was there that I first heard that we are called to be the people God created us to be, not the people others think we should be. It continues to be at MCC that I receive weekly sustenance and strength for the journey of being who I am. I don't think there's any easy way to reach the point of truly not caring what others think. In my experience, faith in our God of love is the first big step. Therapy is a second big step. For me, as I imagine it is for many people, it is a long, on-going process. And it seems to be an essential process for a healthy life with HIV or AIDS.



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