There are certain human qualities that are acknowledged by most as troublemakers. Greed, perhaps. Selfishness. Narrow-mindedness. These are considered by a majority of folks to be unattractive and undesirable characteristics in a fellow man. But there’s another, less obvious trait that also causes trouble. B-I-G trouble. What is it?
The need to be liked.
Many people struggle daily with this need. Most kids feel it strongly in the form of peer pressure, which unfortunately seems to be hitting at an increasingly younger age these days. There is a yearning in many of our youth to feel acceptance, to know that people like or perhaps even admire them. And yes, a hopefully smaller dose of that yearning remains active in many of us well beyond our school years. No one enjoys being slighted, or uninvited, or avoided. People like to be liked. It feels good.
But I want to believe there comes a time when adults stop seeking this out exclusively. People age, and approval shrinks as a motivating force. I’ve often said, and continue to say, that the only really good thing about getting older is that I care less and less what people think of me. It’s liberating. It permits me to do what I believe in, to try to truthfully represent what I stand for instead of being swayed by every mindless human trend.
I’m disheartened to report that I'm beginning to notice there are plenty of adults who still feel deeply the need to be liked. It’s becoming a real problem.
I noticed it when I taught school years ago. Heck, I suffered from it briefly. It was hard to be as strict as I needed to be, because I wanted those kids to like me. I wanted them to think I was cool, hip, informed. It took very little time, however, to realize that this was impossible. I had to ignore that entire aspect of the student/teacher relationship. I had to be the bad guy. A lot. I had to call parents, I had to assign detention, I had to give zeroes for no effort. Some of them hated me. But all of them began to listen. Happily, this is a problem that tends to iron itself out for most who choose education as a profession and stick with it for more than a couple of long-suffering years. There are exceptions—I witnessed them—but they were few.
Bosses are another breed. And co-workers. Everyone can think of some colleague who'd fall without question into the category of bum-kisser. Sometimes it's an underling who's trying to climb that ladder with more speed; other times, it's simply a weak-willed leader who cannot and will not force the people for whom he is responsible to do what is required in an acceptable fashion. It's painful to watch employees take advantage of such a person in charge. Yet, I know it happens daily.
Parents sometimes display this unfortunate trait as well. When a person reproduces, life for that person changes forever: suddenly, the good of the child is the most important thing. No longer can decisions be made simply for the sake of one’s own comfort and safety and interest. Now, a child's welfare and future determines many outcomes. Steps must be taken according to what will best prepare the child to be a responsible, caring, contributing adult someday. However. If a parent still feels an overwhelming need to be liked, that need presents huge obstacles in that parent’s ability to exact punishment, to maintain established consequences. The parent, if more concerned about a child’s approval, will surrender time and again to the child’s demands in order to be the kid's friend. And that’s not good for any kid.
And now. The worst example yet, I believe: world leaders. To be precise, our own leader. He is so uncertain and unschooled in the strengths of this country, of what made it great, that he hesitates to defend it even to the most insidious infidels of the earth. He speaks with disdain and disrespect of our forefathers. He embarrasses us with crass statements, with trendy gadgets as gifts for his contemporaries (I've read that the gadgets featured "greatest hits" by his very self—I don't even have the stomach to confirm those rumblings); he bows to other religions while still tipping his hat, in mocking fashion it seems, to the very beliefs that built this country and that he claimed to embrace. He apologizes for our successes, downplays them, instead of climbing atop them to maintain his role as leader of a force with which to be reckoned.
The need to be liked brings about no good, especially in so-called grown-ups. It will most certainly elicit contempt from your enemies as they watch you prostrate yourself before them; likewise, it will bring disgust and shame from your allies as they step away to disassociate themselves from your ingratiating performance.
Perhaps this is why our founding countrymen specified a minimum age for an acting President. They assumed that by 35, a politically aware and educated person would have begun to shake off the shackles of youth and would no longer seek acceptance and popularity over common sense and duty.
I don't think they made the number high enough. Additionally, extreme arrogance in said person seems to further compound the confusion about priorities. Next time around, could we somehow incorporate a maturity quotient requirement into the mix? A wisdom requirement of some sort? Or an ethical one, perhaps... Problem solved.
Oops. I promised this wouldn't be that sort of blog. Alas, my "coming out" day grows nearer and nearer...