We All Hear Voices (Which Ones Are You Listening To?)

“People before points.”

It’s something I say to my kids—a reminder that people are more important than victories. Sometimes the kids remember. Sometimes they don’t. To be honest, sometimes I remember and sometimes I don’t.

The sun was slipping behind the trees and our breath was becoming visible in the twilight, when my oldest son forgot. A game of football with the neighborhood kids and one young lady dropped one too many passes and my son said one too many critical things and her eyes spilled tears and she sprinted for home.

Points before people. Whoops.

I encouraged my son to follow her and offer an apology. I admired his courage as he followed her home and knocked on her door. Her father answered. I watched my son’s lips move and I watched a look of anger pass over the father’s face before he closed the door. I don’t really blame the father—if some punk kid makes my daughter cry over a football game, I’m likely to circle the wagons, too.

Yet my son returned, tears now streaking his face, and he said, “Daddy, I apologized and he didn’t say anything. He just looked at me like I was a monster.” And then, choking on the question, “Am I a monster, Daddy?”

The world is full of voices and they all have a different opinion about us. Which ones will we listen to?

A World Full of Voices

Being a kid stinks.

You’re new in the world, life is confusing, and it seems like the big people hold the instruction manual about how to put life—and your self—together. As a vulnerable little one, it’s terrifying to feel like you’re on your own, so children will listen to any big voice that gives them definition and direction, even the cruelest ones. And then sometime around the fourth grade, peers join the chorus, too—they start commenting on anything and everything about everyone.

In elementary school, opinions multiply like rodents.

So we build walls to hide ourselves. But the truth is, they’re usually like cheap motel walls and the voices continue to seep through and every opinion continues to matter.

Maybe growing up is as simple as discerning which voices to allow in, and learning how to keep the rest of the voices out.

All Opinions are Not Created Equally

Recently I was browsing Amazon for a new iPod speaker dock. I found a dock with 662 ratings, out of which 537 ratings were four or five stars. Yet 44 people had given it a one-star rating.

I had already decided to purchase the speaker but, out of curiosity, I began to read some of the one-star reviews. While most people loved the product, these 44 people hated it. One reviewer complained angrily that there was a 1/32” inch gap between two of the parts. He admitted it was difficult to see the gap and it didn’t impact the functioning of the speaker but, as an engineer, it offended his sensibilities.

As I read his diatribe, it occurred to me: some of the most opinionated reviews revealed far more about the reviewer than they did about the product being reviewed. And I wondered: could that also be true about the people who review us?

Imagine:

You’re walking down the street and you say, “Hello” to the first passerby and they return the greeting. Then you say, “Hello” to the next person who walks by and they growl at you and put their head down. The third passerby responds with a joyous “Good morning!” And the fourth responds by crossing to the other side of the street.

What does that series of interactions tell us about who we are? Absolutely nothing. At best, it tells us something about the people responding to us.

Who Do We Listen To?

Anyone and everyone can “review” us. We can’t stop it from happening. But we can decide how to respond when it does happen.

Most of us are like that speaker dock on Amazon. We have a 1/32” inch gap in our character and we’ll never project the music of life perfectly. But if we constantly listen to the voices in the world and in our heads, reminding us of our imperfections, we’ll sit on the shelf unopened and all sorts of beautiful potential will get wasted. We need to play the music we were created to play, regardless of the one-star reviews.

And we can take charge of appointing our own critics.

We can choose a few people whose voices we can actually trust, even when they push us and challenge us. People whose feedback says more about us than it does about them, because they’re aware enough of their own mess and agendas to put them aside when they give us opinions about who we are. People who aren’t seeking to change us with their feedback but, instead, are simply trying to connect with us in the midst of it.

What would happen if each of us appointed our own panel of authentic and caring reviewers, and then pushed the mute button on the cacophony of other voices reviewing us?

As the din of voices settled down, we’d begin to notice another voice growing louder within us. A voice of grace, calling us beloved, reminding us we are not a product to be reviewed, but a soul to be renewed.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.