I still have a handout I received in Young Women thirty years ago. It is hand-written in a felt-tipped marker, mounted on blue and white calico fabric and reinforced with poster-board. My young women’s leader went to a lot of work to preserve Dale Carnagie’s, “Six Ways to Make People Like You.”
As with most adolescents, I wanted people to like me, and I worked hard to incorporate Dale Carnagie’s suggestions: smile, remember a man’s name is important to him, talk in terms of the other man’s interests, etc… When I grew up and became a psychotherapist I had to learn a host of additional skills that would help my clients like me, or at least return for their next appointment.
Over the years I’ve realized it’s super-easy to get people to like you. At the gym where I work out there was a man who scanned membership cards each morning. He would smile and greet everybody by name as they walked in the door. Everybody liked him. When he was hit by a car while crossing a street and killed, the entire community flocked to his funeral. We built fountains in his memory and benches dedicated to this man. Few of us knew anything about him beyond the fact that he had a great smile and an exceptional memory for names.
But how popular would this man have been if he had worn gay-pride T shirts to work, or if he handed out religious tracts? Would everybody like him if, as they walked in the door, he said, “Be sure to work hard today, so you don’t put on weight”?
The fact is, we like those who make us feel good about ourselves. We like people who reinforce our world view, and validate us as individuals. We don’t much like those who stand up to us, or even those who simply stand for something.
This makes me wonder if getting people to like us is truly a worthwhile goal. Is having everybody like us the paramount quest for an adult? Should our self-esteem really be defined by the number of “likes” on a Facebook post?
As a Young Women’s leader in 2013, I find myself teaching my girls not to care so much about being liked. Too many teenagers compromise their moral values just to be liked. They wear certain clothing because they want approval. They use certain language in order to gain approval. They may attend questionable parties, or engage in questionable behavior because they want so desperately to be liked.
Even adults find it difficult when they are not “liked.” Women may pine when they discover all the moms in the neighborhood got together at the park and they weren’t invited. Men may fret because they volunteered to coach the little league team and didn’t get chosen. A dear friend was wounded deeply when, after delivering cookies at Christmastime, her neighbor told her point-blank, “Don’t talk to me anymore and don’t let your children talk to my children.” Turns out the neighbor doesn’t “like” Mormons.
Adults who still crave the approval of their peers just as they did as adolescents may sacrifice much to win that approval. For example, if we are so concerned about the approval of men that we fail to stand up for what we believe, we are failing to keep the covenants we made as Latter-day Saints.
The time comes when we must accept the fact that whenever we stand up for what we believe, there are people who aren’t going to like us.
There is no way we can please everybody. If a teenager decides to please the party-pack at their school, their mom and dad won’t be very pleased. My young women have found they even have to choose which teacher they will please: a soccer coach who wants to take them out of school early for an away game or a math teacher who will dock their grade if they miss math class.
The most helpful message for youth today is not, “How to get people to like you,” but “If you stand up for what you believe, there are people who won’t like you, and that’s okay.”
If I decide to create a handout for my Young Women in Keynote or Adobe I think I’ll entitle it, “Six ways to stop caring if people like you.” And I will include the following points:
1. There is no possible way to get everybody to like you. You can’t control what other people like, and they all like different things.
2. Consider what you have to lose because somebody doesn’t like you. Is that worth more than what Heavenly Father can offer you?
3. Whose approval will matter in a year? in a decade? in the next life? the approval of men or that of your Heavenly Father?
4. Just as “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” It’s also true that “Liking is in the eye of the beholder.” Whether somebody likes you or not doesn’t say anything about how likable you are. It only says something about the other person’s preferences.
5. It can actually be an honor not to be liked. It means you have the courage to take a stand, to be a leader.
6. The only person’s approval that really matters is that of Heavenly Father.