How Much Should You Ignore or Listen to Others?

Sometimes, you are so sure of yourself, so confident about your abilities, so hopeful regarding your endeavors, and along comes someone who challenges your assumptions, your beliefs, your capabilities. Their remarks about you, their opinion can shake, if not dash, your confidence. You no longer stand positive about your own ideas, your plans and your pursuits. The golden question is how much should one listen to others and their opinions?

Let me narrate a little story from the life of Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel Laureate, an Indian philosopher and writer:

He had a disciple who was very good at painting. However, he was always worried about what people thought about his work and their opinions. So much so, that it hindered his creativity. On multiple occasions Tagore told him to listen to his heart, that when it came to art, he should draw what he cared about. Tagore tried to tell him that the canvas was supposed to be his playfield and not a dumpster of others’ opinions.

The disciple tried to adopt Tagore’s philosophy without success. One day, he drew a beautiful portrait of Tagore. It was perfect in every sense. Tagore himself approved it. But the disciple remained unsure. He asked Tagore if he should get others’ views on the portrait. Tagore thought it was a good opportunity to teach the disciple and drive home a message.

“Okay. If you really want to know what people think of your art skills,” said Tagore, “go and place this portrait in a corner of a busy marketplace in the morning. Leave my original photo, a set of pencils and a note requesting people to point out the mistakes in the portrait. Let it be there for the whole day and bring it back here in the evening.”

The disciple concurred.

Two days later he went back to Tagore. He was visibly upset and downright pensive.

“I’m shocked at my painting skills. You said it was perfect. But I knew that it wasn’t. And that’s what everyone else thinks too,” and he flashed the portrait in front of Tagore. It was full of black marks. In fact, black spots had completely marred the canvas. People had marked mistakes all over the portrait.

Tagore maintained quietude for a few minutes and said, “I’m not surprised. These opinions mean nothing though. I still think it was perfect. What did you write on the note?”

“The note said, ‘Please compare this portrait with the original and mark wherever you see an anomaly.'”

“Alright. Erase the black marks and take back the portrait,” said Tagore. “This time write a different note. It should say, ‘Please compare with the original and correct the portrait wherever you find a mistake.'”

The disciple heeded and acted in accordance.

At the end of the experiment, he took the portrait back to Tagore and said, “There is not even one mark this time. How come? It’s the same portrait but not even one person corrected anything.”

“It’s easy to find faults, son. Most can’t distinguish fault from a feature. If they could, they would be busy making their own features and not finding faults in others. Trust your instincts when it comes to your own art.”

We have been conditioned and groomed to seek external affirmation of our own beliefs. The greater the number of people who subscribe to your belief, the stronger it becomes. In essence, it doesn’t mean much; perhaps nothing beyond a boost to your own motivation. For every set of seven people there are going to be eight opinions.

When you really want to pursue your dreams, your goals, and you remain sure about your chosen path, you should listen to your inner voice, your instincts and your own conviction. Majority of this world is made up of average people. They will give you a million reasons why you shouldn’t do what you really want to, why you shouldn’t follow your heart, why you are wrong and so forth. They are not doing it out of some vindictive or malicious intent, the truth is that they don’t know any better.

That is not to say that you reject all criticism, but the two most important elements to consider are the source of such criticism and the intention of the criticizer. If you trust the source and their intentions, you may want to reflect on it, else, you have every reason to turn a deaf ear and follow your inner light. You may want to check out a post I wrote a post on opinions.

The greatest across various fields achieved the most when they preferred their inner voice over others’ opinions, when they trod their own path rather than following footprints of others. It was this mindset that gave them strength. When you stay persistent, your skill improves automatically. When you exercise patience, you achieve results naturally. When you adapt and learn from your own experiences, you succeed unfailingly.

Go on! surprise yourself.


Om Swami is a mystic living in the Himalayan foothills and writes frequently on his blog. If you like this post, you can show your love by subscribing to Om Swami’s blog.

Photo credit: ‘Good News‘ by Big Stock


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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