“Hell is other people,” wrote French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
His theories of existentialism are complicated. He wrote pages and pages on the difference between “being-in-itself” and “being-for-itself”.
No surprise that he never wrote what one might call a bestseller.
And yet his 700-page book explaining his position on existentialism, Being and Nothingness, sold very well. The book was published in 1943 during the Second World War.
The publisher was taken aback because so many women, in particular, bought the book.
So, he investigated.
He discovered that Mr. Sartre’s book on deep philosophical issues weighs exactly one kilogram.
With the war under way, copper weights were melted for bullets. What housewives (and shop owners) did were to use Sartre’s book as a weight. They definitely didn’t read it.
Ouch! Maybe hell really is other people, Jean-Paul?
Other people are often in their own heads
For me this story contains such a good lesson to remember – other people are always in their own heads, thinking their thoughts and living their own lives.
More often than not, what they’re doing and saying is not about me. It’s about them.
Jean-Paul is right, hell becomes other people when we expect them to make us happy. Or to validate or affirm us. That’s our job. And it’s super empowering to realize you can love and accept yourself and don’t need your mother any longer to do that.
Remember Jean-Paul and his weighty treatise next time you want to take your mother’s criticism or meanness or neglect personally.
Whatever she’s doing, it’s all about her, not you.
This is your biggest job
And then, your biggest work becomes to make your thoughts, your feelings and your life about you. Not in a self-absorbed way, but by being aware of your unique gifts and finding out what your calling in life is. Ask yourself:
- What do I want to contribute?
- How do I want to show up regardless of what other people are doing?
- What do I want to think about the way I’m dealing with life?
Even though Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness wasn’t a bestseller, it’s still regarded one of the most significant philosophical books of the 20th century. Many people believed his book altered, for better or worse, the course of western philosophy.
It doesn’t matter if some people used his book and the ideas it contained as a mere weight at some point. He did what he wanted. He put his ideas out into the world.
Are you doing that?