Officially, we tell each other we don’t care. We are heirs to a 19th-century rugged individualism that says the individual should stand strong and self-reliant, not conform to the crowd. We are also heirs to a 20th-century ethic of authenticity that holds that each of us is called to be true to our sincere inner self, and that if we bend to please others we are failing in some fundamental way.
But, of course, in reality we do care what other people think. We are wired to connect, to seek the admiration of others. We want to be part of communities, which means obeying community norms.
Moreover, we live at a time of intense social insecurity. The Internet creates instant feedback, letting you know when people approve of you and when they don’t. We are also living during an epidemic of conditional love. Many parents bestow or withdraw affection depending on how well their children are achieving, producing millions of young people without secure emotional foundations, who pine for any kind of approval.