"More people are moved to action by what they think other people think than by what they, themselves, think."
This bit of philosophizing by a 20th century thinker sums up quite succinctly the power other people's thoughts - or what we perceive to be their thoughts - have on our lives. From time to time, we might do certain things because we think other people think we ought to.But that is not always a negative element in our lives. For example, the high expectations of others may even help motivate us or encourage us to reach heights we otherwise would not even attempt to strive for.
No one can discount the benefits of a parent's expectation that a son or daughter will distinguish right from wrong and, therefore, make right choices. Likewise, an employer's expectations that employees will perform tasks according to certain standards help create a productive work environment.
While our desire to measure up to the expectations that others have for us can motivate us to positive action, it can also entrap us. We can become so dependent upon other people's thoughts that we have none of our own.
Doing the right thing for the right reason is known in today's jargon as "keeping our priorities straight." When we do not have our priorities in proper order, we may do vain and foolish things. We may hear the siren call of the world and its acclaim rather than the voice of the Lord's prophets and their sure counsel. We may become more concerned about what is "socially correct" than about what is spiritually sound.
There is danger in following the ways of the world and in seeking the wrong rewards. The Book of Mormon cautions:
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies - because of the praise of the world? (Mormon 8:37-38.)
There are countless ways in which we "sell" ourselves for money and its adornments and for the praise of the world. One way is by behaving in a manner accepted by the world but not by the Lord. When we are more concerned about what our neighbors or our colleagues or our friends think than by what the Lord might think of us, we sell ourselves "for that which will canker."
Sometimes even what appear to be noble actions are, in the end, worldly pursuits. Fathers, for example, have responsibilities to provide for their families. Sometimes, the hours they must work to do so are long and hard, but the love they have for their families motivates them to continue.
There are some, however, who work excessively long hours in order to earn more money so that they might provide for their families "fine apparel" or luxuries of equal or greater value than those of their neighbors. Sometimes these fathers are caught in a vicious cycle: They earn more money so they can buy more things for their families, then their families begin to expect to have those things provided for them in never-ending supply.
And some mothers are caught in a similar struggle as they walk a fine line between leaving young children in the care of others in order to work outside their home to provide necessities and working to provide what may be luxuries for their families.
Still, some mothers who have exchanged careers outside their homes for full-time responsibilities in their homes often are entrapped by what they think others think of them. Undue concern for the praise the world heaps upon those who have careers and families jeopardize the satisfaction and fulfillment that could come through the great work they do within the walls of their homes.
When we do what we know we should be doing with our own lives, then we should not have so much concern about what other people are doing with their lives. Similarly, when we begin to be motivated by what we think is best - rather than by what we think others might think - then we begin to make our own decisions. Choices become ours. And what a privilege it is to be able to choose.