You know that episode of Seinfeld where they visit the Soup Nazi? The soup is so good, the line is out the door, but because this one guy makes soup so good, he is the gatekeeper to a person’s worth for soup. Everyone learns to play the game, to not upset the Soup Nazi. Elaine chooses not to play by the rules and ends up banned for one year.
I was watching this episode recently, laughing. Until I thought:
How many times in my life have I given over my worthiness to someone else to define?
How many times I have been willing to base my worth, my behavior, or my beliefs on someone else’s definition? Only to be told, no soup for you!
Just a few months ago, I was having a conversation with my middle one about how he needs to care less what people think of him. He is in middle school and caring what people think is real. It’s the ball game.
The conversation began as a preparation for Confirmation. Soon our discussion of belief in God turned into a discussion on belief in many things…music, sports, the clothes you wear, the friends you keep and how my son might be different. His worth is measured by what others say it is, who they say he is.
In the middle of this conversation, I pulled out the typical mom response…I said it doesn’t matter what people think of you. I told him I don’ t really care what people think of me. “Really?” His head cocked to the side and his one eye brow raised. “Really,” I countered with all the confidence my 43 years has taught. I am a grown woman. I know my worth. I’ve done the work to heal the hurts of my past. I’m good. “Really. It’s true,” I added for emphasis.
Except the thing is, in the several weeks since my convincing performance, I have had the opportunity to realize how often I really do care what other people think of me. I may be grown. I may have healed. But it turns out, in my humanity, I care what other people think.
I say things like, “I have nothing to wear,” while I stand in my closet full of clothes. Why? Because everything I have has been worn I don’t want to appear like I have no fashion sense, no ability to put together a fresh outfit. I don’t want to be judged as uncool, even in my 40s. I care what others think.
Or even better is the ever popular in our house, “Clean up your stuff, the cleaning lady is coming.”
My biggest fear is the cleaning lady is going to fire us because we are too messy to clean up after. I know. The irony. My deepest, darkest secret might be that I am doing a horrible job of teaching my children the domestic skills they need to survive in the world. They are slobs, like a majority of teenage children in the US, and I don’t have the energy, or maybe it is the patience, to teach them how to overcome their slobbery.
And if our cleaning lady fires us then I would be lost.
Don’t tell my husband, but she might be the most important person in our lives. The real truth is, I can barely keep up on buying their food at this point, let alone the laundry AND the cleaning. So, I really care what she thinks of us.
But my biggest lesson might have been this past week when we received our third anonymous letter in the mail from a “helpful” neighbor. The woman, who isn’t so anonymous, thought it would be kind to let me know that my children are a bad influence on other kids in the neighborhood. In addition, my lackadaisical attitude about their behavior is unacceptable.
No soup for you.
And for a brief moment, I cared what she thought. My feelings hurt from her harsh words. But as I stepped back, I realized what I really cared about was whether or not there might be some truth inside her critique that I hadn’t considered.
Because the truth is although NOT EVERY OPINION MATTERS, opinions with truth matter.
The difference between middle school and now for me, is my tribe. Now, I have a tribe of people who tell me the truth. I trust them. Their opinion matters. Really matters because they will always tell me their opinion with truth. So, the benefit now is I can check what she says with my tribe for truth.
Soup or no soup?
And even though it hurts when someone outside my tribe says something not nice, the hurt fades quickly because I know who I am. I know who I am raising my kids to be. I know I am not perfect. Sometimes I need to say sorry. Sometimes I get it wrong. Sometimes I care what people think. But, the truth is, my worth is not tied up in the opinion of just anyone. It is tied up in those who matter most.
So maybe I can let the Soup Nazi’s of the world write me letters. Because in the end, my tribe got me laughing about the whole thing as if my letter was an episode of Seinfeld. Life just comes full circle like that sometimes.