DH = Dear Husband
Fruclassity Commandment #3: Don’t compare yourself to others or worry about what they think. People have different levels of income and different sets of expenses. Renounce the idea of keeping up with the Joneses in any way. You don’t know their situation – or if they can even afford what they’re buying. As you change your spending habits, others might give negative feedback. Let them. If packing a lunch for work brings on ridicule or a change your gift-giving practices is met with hurt feelings in your family, don’t capitulate!. Offer your explanations respectfully. Don’t engage in arguments of justification. Stand strong!
Reluctance to write about the second part of Commandment #3
Last week, I wrote about the first part of this commandment: Don’t compare yourself to others. Since then, I have been surprised at what I recognize as a wish to avoid writing this second part. I invited Laurie to write about it. “Feel free to take it on if you get struck with an inspiration,” I said to her in an e-mail, hoping that she would accept. But she cheerfully encouraged me to complete Commandment #3.
What was behind my resistance to writing on the topic of worry about what others think? I don’t worry about it anymore, was my first thought. I used to care about what others thought of me big time. I was imprisoned by that worry. But I had my ‘Ah-ha’ moment long ago – in church. As a Canadian who works in the very secular education system, I’ve learned to be careful about sharing my spiritual beliefs, and to do so with a sensitivity and respect for others’ belief systems. And that’s where this is going now for my Easter Monday post, as I write at the table you see above, littered with the happy remnants of an extended family dinner.
A spiritual “Ah-ha” moment
I wrote about this turning point of a Sunday service within the first few months of my journey out of debt because I had encountered a situation in which our new frugality made me worry about what others would think. “I remember a sermon I heard . . . eighteen years ago. It had been filmed at a huge pastors’ convention, and our own pastor showed it for Sunday service Father’s Day of 1995. He explained that the man speaking had had brain cancer and that he had died three days after the filming. I recall these details because that sermon proved to be so pivotal for me. It was based on Proverbs 29:25. ‘Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.’ In what would be his last public address, this man established the fact that we are indeed all born with a legitimate need to be approved of. The point was to fulfill this need through God’s approval and to avoid the trap of seeking people’s approval, as per the proverb.”
That message pierced through the stronghold that worry about others’ approval had established in my heart and soul. There was a real before-and-after distinction in the way I started to make decisions and in the reserves of energy I had now that they weren’t being drained so much by this worry. I say “so much” because it wasn’t completely gone.
Worry about people’s impression of our limited generosity
When I wrote that post three years ago, I was in the awkward position of saying “no” to a young extended family member who had requested financial support for a good cause that was of personal significance to him. DH and I had launched upon our journey out of debt with Dave Ramsey’s gazelle intensity, described in The Total Money Makeover: “To the exclusion of virtually everything else, I’m getting out of debt!” As far as spending, saving, and giving went, we would do a little, but the big push was going to be towards debt-reduction. Not spending much and not saving much in the name of debt-reduction? No problem. Not giving much? Very uncomfortable.
It’s because it doesn’t align with your core values, you might say. Or else, It’s because you know God does not approve. When our pastor asked us to speak in church about our journey out of debt last fall, I told him he might want to reconsider. “We don’t tithe,” I explained. (Note: We give, but we don’t give 10% – which is the meaning of tithe.) “That doesn’t make a difference to me,” he said. “It’s between you and God.” So we took him up on his invitation. We don’t see Christianity as a set of rules, but as a relationship that is ongoing. Like any relationship, it requires honesty, and we are accepted and loved where we are. Does that mean I want to stay where we are? No. I want to move forward – including forward into more generosity – but not so that I can have more of God’s love. I’ve already got it all.
So why does the issue of limited generosity through our time of debt-reduction make me uneasy? I’m afraid it’s because it is an area where I still worry about what others will think. I don’t want to appear to be indifferent. I don’t want to appear to be a hypocrite. Even though I know I’m not indifferent – even though I know I’m not being hypocritical, there is some drain of confidence and energy in my anxiety that other people might think otherwise.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
So what do I do with that? Well, the wrong approach is to avoid it – as I tried to do when I invited Laurie to write on this topic. The thing to do is to ask the question, “What is the worst that can happen?”
Question: What is the worst that can happen if you explain to a family member that you won’t support him financially at this time in his worthy cause because you’re trying to get out of debt?
Answer: He might feel hurt. He might feel angry. He might think less of us because it’s our history of bad finances that has put us in this position. He might think we have bad values.
Question: If he’s hurt or angry after you’ve given an honest explanation with good will, whose problem is that?
Answer: It’s his problem. He has to take ownership of his reaction. I can only do my part in this relationship by being honest and sincere.
Question: If he thinks less of you for your past mistakes or thinks your values are bad, is that your problem?
Answer: No, it’s his judgment and his problem. I know I’ve made mistakes, and I’m trying to correct them. My values are good.
I went through something similar to this mental exercise before declining the request to give financially in the case of our extended family member, and I was prepared for the “worst” to happen. But it didn’t. “No problem. I understand,” was the response. How much of what we do, out of our worry about what others will think, is based on false assumptions? Maybe others will understand. Maybe they’ll accept or even respect your decision. Maybe they won’t think it’s a big deal. Maybe they won’t think anything at all. If you keep on giving in to your worries, you’ll never know.
Question: But what if “the worst” happens? What if there is hurt, anger, judgment, rejection?
Answer: You can take it. You don’t need their approval. If you stay strong and don’t react, if you keep calm and refuse to engage in an exchange of insults and judgment – either overt or or subtle, if you let “others” take full ownership of their thoughts, words, attitudes, actions as you take ownership of yours – you will find that you can absorb the impact, whether it’s a temporary rift or a permanent shift in relationship. If you capitulate, you’ve allowed yourself to be imprisoned by your need for their approval.
Whether it’s in relation to changes spending, giving, or saving, those of us who encounter obstacles to financial freedom in our concern about what others think have to trust that we are stronger than we think – and that we can develop strength as we take the first step in letting go of that worry. “Develop your ‘No’ muscle,” as Oprah says. The only relationships that are worth maintaining are the ones characterized by honesty, acceptance, and support. If you actually lose friendships or even relationships within your family because you’re making an effort to turn your finances around, so be it. Those friendships and family connections are not worthy of your anxiety. More likely, you’ll encounter a temporary awkwardness. Or you’ll find that your worry is entirely yours – with no foundation in reality at all.
Fruclassity Commandment #3 (Part B): Don’t . . . worry about what others think. . . . As you change your spending habits, others might give negative feedback. Let them. If packing a lunch for work brings on ridicule or a change your gift-giving practices is met with hurt feelings in your family, don’t capitulate!. Offer your explanations respectfully. Don’t engage in arguments of justification. Stand strong!
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare,” but it’s a snare from which you can release yourself. There is great freedom and energy when you do, and it’s on offer. What a great time of year to receive it!
Have your finances ever been negatively impacted by your worry about what others think? What has your experience been when you’ve refused to give in?