Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 18, 2013

Motherly wisdom still applies today

Charles Romans
The Independent

ASHLAND — One of the earliest things I remember my mother telling me was around the time I was in kindergarten, or maybe first grade.

I don’t even remember what it was that had upset me, but it involved someone hurting my feelings. My mother told me then, and repeated it often: no matter what I did, or how hard I tried, not everyone was going to like me. Now she tempered that bit of devastating knowledge by saying it was OK because not everyone had to like me, and that not liking someone was different from actually disliking someone, but she made sure I grasped the central thought.

And she was right ... but that one little piece of knowledge flies in the face of the way society usually works.

Humans are social animals that depend on and actually thrive in the company of other humans. For every “lone wolf” that goes their own way, regardless of what others think or believe, there are millions of others who simply want to live their lives surrounded by family, friends and even acquaintances with whom they have a connection.

People, even the lone wolf types, deep down want to be liked. We want to fit in, and to feel as though we matter. There is nothing wrong with this desire. Being concerned about what others think and the way they feel about us is one of the main things that help hold society together.

But the desire to be liked often causes us to do strange, impractical things. We buy the same clothes, listen to the same music and want to drive the same types of cars because we think this will ensure we are well regarded by others — and often we do these things even if we personally would rather not. Sometimes the desire to fit in or be liked overcomes our common sense and flies in the face of basic reason. When this happens, obsession takes over and obsession rarely yields any lasting beneficial results. When we try to force something then we end up breaking it.

We see this a lot with children, from the time they begin toddling until they move out on their own. The desire to be liked kicks in and then formerly polite children become bullies, the quiet ones begin acting up in class, and girls who might have every other reason in the world to like one another suddenly begin talking badly about one another over their choice of fashion.

Somewhere along the line things get out of hand and children (adults, as well) forget to simply be likable people in the rush to be liked.

Why? Because being in a group implies that there are others who aren’t in that group. Groups, clubs, and societies don’t have to be elitist or exclusive, and there are many good ones that aren’t; but there are groups, small and large, whose members behave that way. The basic “boys are gross” or “girls have cooties” evolves into “you have to be this pretty” or “wear this type of jeans” or “if you aren’t an athlete you’re a loser” or even “you aren’t smart enough” then you can’t be part of this club.

And these examples only cover school age children. Adults have their own, much worse versions, because people can grow into adulthood, but not out of it. Still, the groups have striking similarities because we still want to be liked — adults simply call it being successful.

Once the obsession takes over then we qualify what should be relatively simple things such as self-worth and happiness by whether or not the right people “like” us and how well we “fit in.”

Sadly, we seldom understand that if we are likable people then the people who like us, by default, are the right people.

If treating one person badly in order to make another person “like” us actually works, then surely someone is going to treat us badly to gain the affection of someone else because there are just too many groups out there for that not to happen.  That is, until people realize that if being a part of a group requires being mean, hurtful, or foolish that what the group wants is the behavior, and not the people we truly are.

 It is, of course, perfectly fine to be pretty or fashionable. Being an athlete or being smart (or both) is good as well, and friendly competition makes us all improve our talents and skills.

It is when we take our gifts, our talents, and use them to belittle or ostracize others that the problem begins.

No one gift or talent in the end is truly better than any other; and they have nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s intrinsic worth.

CHARLES ROMANS is a freelance writer who lives in Greenup County.