Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Quick: Would you rather be liked or respected?

Yes, I know, you want to be liked and respected. But if you had to choose only one -- because sometime you may have to -- which would it be? Your answer to that question could change the course of your life.

Confession time: I was 9 years old, in sixth grade, and in a new school for the third time in 3 years. That alone, being the new kid, 2 years younger than everyone else, made me different. Furthermore, this particular school had a very, um, developed culture, one which I neither knew nor understood. To make matters worse, I quickly ended up on the 'wrong' side of a political discussion, that is, taking the opposite point of view to everyone else (I'm pretty sure we were all parroting our parents' beliefs, and my parents just thought differently than the other parents).

To my parents' great surprise, I instinctively framed the question as one of being liked (for agreeing with everyone) versus being respected (for backing up my opinion with research, which I did). I held my ground in arguments for a week or so, during which time I was ostracized, and then the whole episode faded away. What I took from it, though, was the knowledge that I could stand up for my point of view -- and live.

Wanting, or needing, to be liked is natural, and inculcated in us as toddlers. If we act in ways that please our parents (aka the adults who control our lives), then we get fed and held and smiled at and other treats. If we don't please our parents, we're punished in a variety of ways. So we learn to please others as a way of getting what we want, or at least avoiding what we don't want.

But it often goes too far, and becomes co-dependence, a state in which you deny your own needs to the point of not even being able to recognize them any more. You value others' approval of your thinking, feelings and behavior over your own. This people-pleasing behavior may even attract (or allow) abuse. Eventually, you no longer know who you really are. You go along with the crowd, you think inside the box, and you wonder why you're unhappy.

Choosing being respected over being liked, on the other hand, means following your own conscience, even when it leads you to do things that others don't like. That can get you ostracized, which can mean feeling mighty lonely.

The upside of this is that you're clear about who you are, and what you want. You're free to learn what you want, think what you want, to say what is right and appropriate, to stand up for yourself. This is very difficult as a kid, because you are truly stuck -- you don't get to choose your neighborhood or your school. But as an adult, you can move, you can change jobs, or even fields -- or you can just find new friends!

Now: which do you choose, being liked or being respected?


Anonymous said...

How do you see this in relation to the issue (that is raised in couple's therapy oftentimes) of choosing between being "right" versus being loving (accepting). There the dilema is that oftentimes people will insist on being "right" (sometimes framing it as a "respect" issue) and in the process make their partner "wrong". That can then destroy the loving acceptance between them that the relationship needs. I wonder if your reasoning in this article would be read as suggesting that people should choose being "right" over being "loving"? I do see the value in not giving up one's "self" just to be liked... and yet I think it is also important to remember that we can also go too far in the other direction- of valuing our opinions, our thoughts, above relationships, above love, above even the reality of the moment. And thoughts (which are not really "self") are often distorted and often change- such that what you fight for vehemently one day, you may not even believe the next- and yet you might lose real and meaningful love and connection in the process... Maybe what grates at me is the seemingly implied message that if there is conflict/disagreement, then it is always best to just hold onto your own viewpoint, don't open yourself to any possible outer influence (beware the dreaded codependence), and if they won't see it your way, then move on (no wonder our divorce rate is so high)... That sort of approach can definitely lead to serious loneliness and disconnect and loss of meaning in life- and sometimes for no good reason. I guess I'd be more inclined to encourage people to think carefully about what is most important to them in that situation(to the best that they can discern that)and then assess what choices would best move them in that valued direction. Sometimes the choice would then be to choose love (and not worry about who is right... it often is an unanswerable question anyways and not of any real import)and sometimes the choice would be to continue along your path despite opposition... in either case you can have self-respect, because you are doing your best to live your values. Maintaining a balance between how much you give to your relationships with how much you give to your self is another important piece to this puzzle. - would love to hear your thoughts on this. thanks & be well.

Hollis Polk said...

Being respected does not mean closing yourself to anyone or anything else, including new ideas. To me, it means acting in accordance with your highest ideals, and I personally include love and an open heart in those.