• nsughaiyer

What Do You Want People To Say About Us?

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Photo by Echo on Unsplash
What do you want people to say about us?! شو بدك الناس يحكو عنا؟

A common question in our Arab Society that never required an answer.

An expression suppressing millions of Arabs in their everyday lives.

A line that has questioned many dreams and ended countless missions.

An ideology of fear injected in the minds of most young Arabs.

A mantra of shame that gently repeats as a warning from attempting the new.

A reminder to strongly consider and care about the opinion of others.

A call to fit in and follow what everyone else is doing.

What do you want people to say about us?!

We often hear this within our families to address individual behaviours that are different from the norms, traditions and expectations of society (i.e. talking/walking/thinking differently, failing courses, losing a job, getting a divorce...).

This expression can possibly be addressed to you in two situations: either hypothetically or after the fact.


When it's hypothetical, it's meant as a warning to force a person away from saying or doing something (or to make them say or do something).

Example: You have to pass your courses, what do you want people to say if your graduation is delayed?

After the fact

Here, it's meant as an expression of fear, shame and/or regret for both the person saying it and for the addressed person.

Example: You failed your courses, what do you want people to say about us now?

It's often said at times when there is something done or said (or not done/not said) that brings shame to the reputation of the family.

There are two main ways to trigger this expression:

1- Breaking cultural and social norms

Those are expectations and unwritten rules by society (parents, siblings, partners, relatives, friends, strangers...) about how individuals should behave.

For example: Words and gestures used in greeting, clothes worn, customs of visiting and hosting, traditions in food & coffee serving, respect for elderly, wedding traditions, talking loud or cursing in public, religious practising, expressing emotions in front of others,... and the list goes on.

When you break any of those norms within an Arab society, you are highly likely to hear this expression (or versions of it) said to you.

2- Failing

Failing is a sign of weakness in the Arab society.

At all costs, you cannot fail.

And if you already failed... at all costs, you cannot show it.

Failing in an Arab society automatically brings disappointment, pity, sympathy, and shame from people around you.

Young Arabs end up either not taking risks for fear of failure, or end up hiding their failures from people around them and suppressing them inside their mind and body (as stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, fear, pain, shame...).

The reality is...

If you examine the expression closely, you will notice that it is literally asking you what you want people to say about you.

And while you absolutely have no control in what people think of you, it's giving you the illusion that you do have a choice in controlling what people say.

That illusion is to reverse your decisions, undo your behaviours or unsay your words.

What people think of you is not in your control.

"What do you want people to say about us?" is and will always be that fear-based expression that we hold closely and dearly to protect ourselves and to feel that we are in full control of our lives.

But... We will never be in full control.

We will never be able to change what others think of us.

It's not out job!

Our job is to control our actions and thoughts in ways that serve us.

Whenever you hear this expression again....

Allow it to bring humor and lightness to your ear.

Shower the person saying it to you with compassion and love.

Let it remind you of how much you have little control over others.

This expression is soon dying!

Don't resist it.

Love it.

And give it a space to die.

Yours in Magic,


P.S. This expression in my Arabic dialect is شو بدك الناس يحكو عنا

I would love to know how it sounds in your dialect.

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