Imagine, if you will, a world without consequences. A world where we could do anything we wanted, and no matter what, people's perception of us would not change; our actions would not affect our public perception. It's a neat fantasy, but, well, it's a fantasy, and nothing more. We know better: those few people who manage to craft the kind of public opinion of that the rest of us can only hope for... they're remarkable people. The rest of us live in a world where our public perception is rather beyond our control.
Recently, as I was hovering around various gaming circles, I stumbled across a rather lively debate about a public figure who had made some statements people found upsetting. I'm choosing to leave him out of it to keep that debate's baggage firmly at the door. Due to the nature of this conversation, it's likely that some will seep in, but I'm going to do my best to keep it out.
Throughout the discussion, many of the individuals taking issue with this public figure's remarks made a claim that I, personally, find rather strange. Some whined, some declared, others raged, but in the end, this claim kept popping up: "these people want the right to be seen in the way they want to be seen."
I can accept quite a few perspectives, for instance, that the public figure in question had acted without compassion or courtesy. But... if the issue is that he chose not to share another's perspective of themselves, then I find his actions entirely defensible, because regardless of what anyone may tell you, the simple truth of reality is that we do not own other people.
There is no right to be seen in the way you so choose.
No one on this planet has the right to control the opinions of another person.
I cannot command you to forget my many failings as a commenter. Sure, it'd be nice if I could make you forget the vagaries of my transgressions, but it'd be nice for me to have everyone conveniently ignore the many foolish and ignorant things I've said in the past, not so much for you. You are a distinct and unique individual. Part of what makes you so unique is your ability to come to conclusions about things on your own; it's what shapes you and who you are. It's an innately human response to the world around us. What dislikes you may have for me or my mistakes, reasonably expressed and understood, only serve to enhance our communication, bettering us all.
There is nothing valid, or even reasonable, about demanding that people bend their opinions to your point of view. The world's greatest minds, like Aristotle and Kant, were advocates of reason, of letting people come to their own conclusions, even if those conclusions were contradictory. It was the world's greatest monsters, like Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, who demanded obeisance.
There is tremendous value in a vast and diverse culture that offers differing and opposing viewpoints, and to attempt to silence the perspectives of one just because your viewpoint is another is restrictive and ignorant.
There is no right to your public perception—there can't be, not in a world where people have a right to their opinion. Chances are, no one will perceive you exactly the way you wish to be seen; you don't get a free pass for your mistakes, and you'd be worse off if you did. One of the many inherent values of a lack of ownership of one's public perception is that it encourages people to be better. It facilitates self-improvement; people who consistently manage to be irritating, or even hurtful, are treated with disdain and contempt, which, assuming they're a normal, well-adjusted person, results in a desire and an effort to be a better person, which, of course, results in more powerful, meaningful societal relationships, not to mention a stronger community.
You have no right to control what others think, only a responsibility to them to be a good person. This isn't a world where you can just will your troubles away, where you can simply expect to travel the path of least resistance. There's always going to be someone who, no matter what, simply does not agree with you, and, as terrible as it seems, won't even like you all that much.
I mean, hey, look at me; a few weeks ago, I tried to take the most reasonable, rational approach to the sexism debate there is, and people accused me of, among other things, being sexist, homophobic, racist, and all sorts of other things. Last week, when discussing the Xbox One and PS4, I found myself under essentially nonstop protests, which included, among other things, claims that were sexist, racist, and homophobic.
And, for a while, I'd been struggling with the need to reply to everyone. On Saturday, I woke up to my inbox with fifty or so responses. My response was a "you know what? I haven't actually played video games in a few days... so I'm going to do that instead, I think."
And I did.
And it was fun.
What I learned, from that moment, and the discussion that led to the thoughts that created this article, was that, honestly, there is no way to control what people think of you, aside from the actions you perform, and even then, some people... well, they just won't like you.
And you know what?
That's perfectly okay.