Thursday, October 1, 2015

What's Not to Like About Being Liked?

It might not be universal, but a deep-seated desire most of us share is to be liked. If we can’t be loved by everyone, wouldn’t it be great at least to have everyone like us?

Did you envy the person voted “Most Popular” in your high school yearbook? Or maybe that individual was you. If it was, how did that feel? I can’t imagine, but it must have been nice.

In 1984, actress Sally Field discovered
her peers really, really liked her.
Sally Field summed it up for many of us in 1984, upon winning a best actress Academy Award for her role in the film, “Places in the Heart.” Her iconic acceptance speech featured the memorable declaration, “…and I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!”

Don’t we all wish we could say that? We certainly try hard enough.

We worry about whether people will like what we wear – at work, at school, to ballgames, even to church. We fret over how people will respond to the free food we serve them at a dinner party or picnic. We agonize over whether we’re sending our kids to the right school and what people will say. We wonder what people will think if they see us doing certain things or going to certain places. We want people to think well of us – to like us, just like Sally Field.

But being liked by one and all isn’t easy these days. In fact, it’s downright impossible. As politically correct as our society has become, we’re inclined to hesitate even before stating something as simple as "the sky is blue," for fear someone might take offense. There’s no way to have everyone agree with us, much less like us without reservation.

That’s not to say we should go out of our way to make people dislike us; some of them will do it without our help. If we take a stand on anything, whether it’s about politics, sports, morality, TV shows, matters of faith, even the brand of detergent we use, we’re sure to find folks that will vehemently disagree.

On the other hand, what’s there to like about someone that insists on being noncommittal about everything? As someone has said, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

There’s actually a positive to not being liked by every single person we meet. During His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus cited four “woes” or warnings about when things seem to be going too well. Definitely no stranger to opposition, Jesus told His followers, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).

He was offering the caution that if our primary aim is likeability, we’ll find ourselves hopelessly entrenched in compromise, striving to be people-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. It can’t work both ways.

Proverbs 27:21 presents an interesting observation: “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives.” Just as silver and gold are refined by extreme heat, the quality of our character is revealed by how we respond to what others say and think of us. There’s danger if the motivation behind what we do and say is to receive the approval and acceptance of others.

The esteemed religious leaders of Jesus’ day were subjects of this scathing commentary: “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in Him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:42-43).

Yes, it’s agreeable to feel liked by people around us. Sure beats being disliked or hated. But there’s value in approaching everyday life as if “playing to an audience of One.” Then we can anticipate one day hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21-23).

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