COVID-19 UPDATES: All the stories and commentaries on Coronavirus, in one place

The What-Would-People-Say Syndrome

September 19 , 2020
By Eden Sahle ( Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at )

Those that have attempted to meet people’s expectations quickly find themselves exhausted from the endless demands. In Ethiopia, there is an incessant need to overwhelm others, without due consideration to people’s plans and realities.

The consequences to the private lives of people could be devastating. Take the couple who were family friends. The circumstance of their marriage was indigestible to the point that their relatives could not stop meddling in their lives. They were forced to change locations and isolate themselves from the community they knew.

But these may be the strong ones. Many give in and attempt to live their lives according to the assumptions of others. Paying heed to the expectations of others is ingrained in our society, there is a phrase for it: “sew mine yelale?” which translates to “What would others think?”

Perhaps the best example of this is weddings. Couples feel they have to throw lavish weddings because this is what dozens of relatives and friends that do not plan to contribute a penny expect them to do.

I have attended extravagant wedding ceremonies where people condemned the couple and their parents for spending too much. I have also gone to small and intimate weddings where the same people badmouth the couple and their family for investing very little in their weddings.

“If they don’t spend it now when are they going to spend it?” they would say.

This goes on in everything people do. Attempting to please the public is an exercise in futility, partly because people do not know what they want or ask for things that they themselves would never do.

This is why individuals need to find the courage in themselves to live life on their terms. The remarks by people can be hurtful, and the ostracisation that attends non-conformity could be devastating. But the understanding that contentment does not come from outside should help us rise above our inclinations to give in.

But it is often the case that keeping life private and making personal decisions is such a daunting endeavour that it prevents people from taking the initiative. Everyone in society does this to the extent that the behaviour is normalised. While learning not to be weighed down by all the burdens people place on everyone may not be easy, it is nonetheless vital.

Fretting about what people are going to say should never hold us back from pursuing our goals. Living within our means and considering personal decisions can be the most rewarding decision we can make. This starts with knowing what we truly value and stand for and ensuring that our goals align with those of society not out of a need to please. Following what we personally value in life lays the foundation for our identity and how we lead our lives.

Notable is that the behaviour of society should not be considered to have arisen out of a need to hurt. Many are actually trying to help. Unfortunately, they do this with assumptions. They tend to generalise things and categorise people in inaccurate ways. This is obvious since we often know little about people except what we assume or hear about them.

Whatever the motives, this creates a major problem nonetheless. It overburdens individuals with norms, values and expectations that they neither can meet nor want to. But once this behaviour becomes a culture, the same individuals that became victims of the unfair pressures heaped on them go on to perpetuate the same offences. It is a vicious cycle.

Instead of being enslaved following other people’s thoughts and desires, it is freeing to pursue one's own. But to uphold our values, we must sometimes be willing to stand alone. We will not otherwise be able to defeat the what-would-people-say syndrome running in our culture.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 19,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1064]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

Put your comments here

Editors' Pick


Fortune news


Drop us a message

Or see contact page