On Liking Another Person

Liking someone can sometimes seem important, but I can hardly put it as a central part of my life. I certainly do want to get married, own my own home, and have a family – that is very, very important to me, but I have a tendency not to date. It’s not because I don’t desire to, but probably because I have strong feelings of being misunderstood, too severely judged, and not treated with my own self-worth by quite a few people over the course of many, many years.

Everyone lives in a glass house. We all have our things, without machine guns planted on the roof of them (that didn’t work out well anyway). Here are a few things worth noting about things I am particular to, and not so particular to, from others.

Particular Towards

Connectivity: I can like someone else all I want to, but if I don’t really know that person, know them enough to trust them, to feel able to honestly open up to them, than it sort of makes it all a moot point. I have liked plenty of people without any sort of engagement with them. It was harmless, it was fine, and life continued unabated and uninterrupted.

Emotional Connection: Is there no better way to deny someone as human than to deny they have any feelings (feel pain, and value love)? I am particular towards an emotionally available guy, not a statue. If I wanted a statue, there are plenty at the State House.

Accountability: Just what is accountability? Well, according to Hope for Women Magazine‘s “Accountability in Relationships Part 1: “Taking the Blame” vs “The Ability to Respond”:

In this day and age, when most of us are intelligent enough to self-diagnose the nature of our individual flaws, and acknowledge the sometimes-negative effects of our actions, why is it still so hard to “take the blame?”

Perhaps seeing it as blame – rather than responsibility – is the root of the problem.

Some definitions of responsibility include on “the state or fact of being accountable for something,” “duty to deal with something,” “liability,” or “obligation.” All of these words sound stern, off-putting, and distasteful! But what about seeing responsibility in light of the two words it comes from: “respond/response” and “ability”?

In this light, responsibility — the ability (“talent that enables,” “capacity to do something”) to respond becomes a positive quality – rather than one of blame and indictment.

Similarly accountability (“to be responsible to someone or for some activity”) simply becomes the ability to provide clear and rational answers or explanations for your choices.

Realizing that you have the ability to think about your actions and make choices — with a knowledge that you want to be able to explain them and feel good about them later – is actually empowering! Looking at accountability and responsibility as positive qualities to aim for in every situation will ensure your actions, choices and behaviors remain at your highest levels – and result in the best possible outcome for all involved.

Accountability, in relationships (of all kinds), comes down to “provide clear and rational answers of explanations for your decisions,” as well as actions, statements, and behaviors. What would happen without accountability? According to EvanCarmichael.com‘s article, “Leadership Tips To Create Greater Accountability In Your Organization“:

A lack of accountability in your organization causes the following problems:

  • reduced profitability
  • poor customer service
  • silos and lack of cooperation between departments
  • projects that fail to create intended results
  • lack of personal growth for employees
  • added stress and frustration for the manager

Much of this applies to businesses, so what if we made slight alternations in regards to relationships? It would look like:

  • reduced success rate
  • poor attitudes
  • lack of community
  • failure to communicate, or organize
  • lack of personal growth
  • added stress and frustration

Understandably, none of this looks promising, pleasant, or worthwhile. These are why I hold accountability deeply, irregardless of whom I engage with, because they are all unavoidable. Accountability is the angel by my side ready to show me who thinks of me a barbie doll, and who thinks of me as a living, breathing human being.

Earning Trust and Respect: This is so incredibly important, although we live in a world where we can get TV on Demand, it doesn’t work the same way with other people. According to Robert Joss, Dean of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford:

Earning trust and respect is crucial, Joss said. “You have to enlist followers when you’re in a role at the top, and you’re very dependent on those followers. What you want are people who are inspired, who are committed, who are motivated. It’s your job to instill confidence in them.”

He isn’t talking about sycophants. “When you’re at the top,” Joss said, “people don’t always tell you what you need to hear. Indeed, that’s probably the single biggest blind spot or difficulty.”


Not Particular Towards

Paternalism: It is really, really easy to express all sorts of opinions, advice, and judgments of others, without having any sort of responsibility, even if you were to be wrong. This is especially say, true, in the instance of a personal agenda accompanying it, that would really work for your own benefit. Basically, you go there, and you are gone.

Labels: As former United States Senator Harris Wofford said in his New York Times Opinion, ‘Finding Love Again, This Time With a Man,’ “Too often, our society seeks to label people by pinning them on the wall — straight, gay or in between. I don’t categorize myself based on the gender of those I love.” I share in this same sentiment, as I couldn’t function in a proper relationship if I had to make sure that a potential partner would have to fit closely within the gay category. The label simply isn’t the most important thing to me, it’s the relationship with the person.

Being ‘Cool’ or ‘Popular’: I couldn’t care about such a frivolous thing. There are a lot more important things to take into consideration than doing something, saying something, or liking something that bestows upon others that I am incorrectly a better human being than others (oddly enough, people said I was this way because of an interest in academia, but those people didn’t have degrees). People who talk to me about this as though it is relevant, are irrelevant.

Defeatist Attitudes: This attitude essentially stops you before you ever began. It’s a great way to accomplish nothing. These comes phrases like “That’s tough,” “That’s difficult,” “That’s unfortunate,” and “That sucks.” It puts all the focus on the defeat (it enables this very behavior) without even addressing ways to get around the issue (which there always are). Obviously, if you merely focus on a vague idea of happiness, this is part of self-sabotage, as according to Huffington Post‘s “Self-Sabotage and Success: Breaking the Habit of Defeatism“:

“Happiness” and “success” are nice, but too vague. You have to get specific, which in my opinion is the hardest part. If it’s too daunting to ask yourself what you want to do with your life, try asking yourself what you want to do in the next six months, year or five years.

Narcissism: Narcissism is a dangerous thing. According to Psychology Today‘s “Self-Esteem Versus Narcissism“:

The distinction between self-esteem and narcissism is of great significance on a personal and societal level. Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy. So where do these attitudes come from? And why do we form them?

In our new book, The Self Under Siege, my father, psychologist and author Robert Firestone, and I write, “Vanity is a fantasized image of the self that is formed when parents substitute empty praise and a false buildup for the real love and acknowledgment they have failed to provide to their child.” Such parents leave their children feeling unseen and with a sense of pressure to be someone they aren’t. On the other hand, parents who are attuned to their children and genuinely responsive to them leave their offspring feeling seen and validated. These children grow up with an accurate sense of who they are and healthy self-esteem.

Studies have shown that children offered compliments for skills they haven’t mastered or talents they do not possess are left feeling as if they’d received no praise at all, often even emptier and less secure. Only children praised for real accomplishments were able to build self-esteem. The others were left to develop something far less desirable–narcissism. Unnatural pressure or unearned buildup can lead to increased insecurities and anxieties that foster narcissism over self-confidence.

Narcissism encourages envy and hostile rivalries, where self-esteem supports compassion and cooperation. Narcissism favors dominance, where self-esteem acknowledges equality. Narcissism involves arrogance, where self-esteem reflects humility. Narcissism is affronted by criticism, where self-esteem is enhanced by feedback. Narcissism makes it necessary to pull down others in order to stand above them. Self-esteem leads to perceiving every human being as a person of value in a world of meaning.

Society plays a role in fostering self-esteem or narcissism. Dr. Solomon explains, “self-esteem is ultimately a cultural construction, because the standards of value by which people judge themselves are derived from adhering to social standards.” These standards can either provide ways for people to feel good about themselves, or they can promote unrealistic expectations that can only destroy self-esteem. Solomon comments that in America, a man has to be rich and successful, and a woman has to be “young and thinner than a piece of linguini, and that’s impossible.” He states, “Our kids are taught at a very early age to adhere to a set of values that is not realistically attainable for the average individual. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that a third of the American population is depressed and another third is addicted to drugs and alcohol, and the final third is watching television or shopping at [the super store] for a chain saw or a lemon.”

Sucking Up, or Being Sucked Up To: The lowest form of communication known to man, this does not impact me in how I see others, nor do I find it necessary to behave disingenuous in order to get ahead in the world. Not being fake goes a long way.

Peer Pressure: If sucking up to other means “I want something from you,” then peer pressure means “I want you to do something for me.” Giving into peer pressure is a deep sign of not being confident, because it all stands on changing yourself to accommodate others, and why should they be accommodated? Quiet simply, they shouldn’t.

‘Proving Yourself’ To Others: There is no bigger straw man than other demanding, requesting that you prove yourself to them, because it says the person you are isn’t “good,” “important,” or worthy of life. According to The Guardian‘s article, “I spent 20 years of my life trying to ‘prove myself’. What a mistake“:

“I’m afraid … I’m afraid that I’m a bad person.”

I knew the words were real because I felt this immediate recognition of truth inside of me. Yes, this was my fear, what I was so afraid of. He asked me why. I explained how time after time, I screwed up, I hurt people with my screwups, and that I never seemed to really recover from my failures. The only answer that I could come up with was that I was inherently flawed. That there was something wrong with me, something broken.

When I look back on that day, what I realize is that this was the first step in a larger realization of the way I looked at the world, and how I looked at myself. When I review my life, I am amazed at how I spent so much of it worrying about the possibility that there was something “wrong” with me.

Despite going to “gifted” classes, I never seemed to be interested in school. I had anger problems, I would let out my frustrations on my parents with yelling, with huge fights. I was addicted to practically everything that was “bad” for me, from video games to gambling to pot. As the years progressed, I just got more sucked in.

In my mind, there was a case being built against me. Even though I wasn’t religous, I subconsciously imagined some divine detective gathering evidence every time I screwed up. Soon, I was convinced, the evidence would be so stacked against me that I would simply have to accept it: I was bad.

Of course, those thoughts never consciously entered my mind until that day in the therapist’s office. But there were indications. I always seemed to be much more worried about what people thought of me than how I actually acted. I would sometimes obsess over a tiny mistake, verbally abusing myself for it, calling myself names and generally hating myself. Often, I would judge friends and people close to me just as harshly. If they hurt me, something I judged as “wrong”, it would be almost impossible for me to let it go. I would drop them, convincing myself I had left the “bad” people.

And so my life went. Judging myself and others by what I felt was inherently within us: a goodness or a badness. A completeness or a brokenness. That day in the therapist’s office, after I told him about my ultimate fear: that I too was a bad person, he started questioning me. He asked me, “Define you.”

I tried and I tried. I came up with about a million definitions, but he refuted them all. There was no way to define me. No way to pin down what I was. I was just … a soul.

“You keep trying to pin down this ‘you’,” he told me, “But that’s no way to live. You are indefinable. And your life is spent just trying to be the best of that indefinable self.” He’s a deep guy.

It took me some time to wrap my head around what he said. Maybe it was only recently that I truly grasped it. But he laid a seed in my mind. The seed grew into a full-on realization. The realization that when we live our lives like they are already defined, like someone set our soul in stone and all we have time left to do is prove to the world that this soul is worthy … then we are missing out on the most important fact of life.

The fact that the world, including us, is in constant motion. From the particles that make up physical reality, to the planets themselves, to our own physical selves. Physical reality is constantly evolving, constantly growing, constantly changing. There is no way to completely pin it down, to grab a hold of it and make it all stop and say, “This is the state it will always be in!” And the same is true with us.

I spent 20 years of my life trying to prove to myself that I was worthy. I saw every failure as a sign that I was worthless. Part of the evidence against my soul. I saw every success as something I had to grab onto, hold onto for dear life for whenever the court case was brought against me.

Relationships were the same way. Instead of spending my time loving friends and family, giving to them, I was always building a case for and against them, weighing whether they deserved my attention.

This is no way to live, this “judgment”. And it’s not just about morality. It’s about reality. Judgment implies a fixed-state of things. It implies no change. It implies lack of growth. But life is the opposite of fixed. Life is a verb. An action. A motion.

And so are we. Until our bodies are dead, frozen and decomposing in the ground, we are creations in motion. When we accept this reality, we can accept ourselves. We can focus on our actions.

As this realization has oozed its way into my mind, I’ve learned to embrace failure as a part of my ever-evolving attempts to grow into a better person. I’ve learned to realize that love is a verb, that my wife and I grow together, and aren’t defined by any one negative interaction. I’ve learned to stop trying to impress people.

Furthermore, according to Marc and Angel Hack Life‘s article, “7 Reasons to Stop Proving Yourself to Everyone Else“:

Sometimes we try to show the world we are flawless in hopes that we will be liked and accepted by everyone, but we can’t please everyone and we shouldn’t try.  The beauty of us lies in our vulnerability, our complex emotions, and our authentic imperfections.  When we embrace who we are and decide to be authentic, instead of who we think others want us to be, we open ourselves up to real relationships, real happiness, and real success.

There is no need to put on a mask.  There is no need to pretend to be someone you’re not.  You have nothing to prove to anyone else, because…

1.  The people worth impressing just want you to be yourself.

In the long run, it’s better to be loathed for who you are than loved for who you are not.  In fact, the only relationships that work well in the long run are the ones that make you a better person without changing you into someone other than yourself, and without preventing you from outgrowing the person you used to be.

Ignore the comparisons and expectations knocking at your door.  The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.  Prove yourself to yourself, not others.  The RIGHT people for you will love you for doing so, and they will appreciate all the things about you that the WRONG people are intimidated by.  Bottom line: Don’t change so people will like you; be patient, keep being your amazing self, and pretty soon the RIGHT people will love the REAL you.

2.  No one else really knows what’s best for YOU.

Don’t lose yourself in your search for acceptance by others.  Walk your path confidently and don’t expect anyone else to understand your journey, especially if they have not been exactly where you are going.  You have to take the steps that are right for you; no one else walks in your shoes.

Let others take you as you are, or not at all.  Speak your truth even if your voice shakes.  By being true to yourself, you put something breathtaking into the world that was not there before.  You are stunning when your passion and strength shines through as you follow your own path – when you aren’t distracted by the opinions of others.  You are powerful when you let your mistakes educate you, and your confidence builds from firsthand experiences – when you know you can fall down, pick yourself up, and move forward without asking for anyone else’s permission.

3.  YOU are the only person who can change YOUR life.

In every situation you have ever been in, positive or negative, the one common thread is you.  It is your responsibility, and yours alone, to recognize that regardless of what has happened up to this point in your life, you are capable of making choices to change your situation, or to change the way you think about it.  Don’t let the opinions of others interfere with this prevailing reality.

What you’re capable of achieving is not a function of what other people think is possible for you.  What you’re capable of achieving depends entirely on what you choose to do with your time and energy.  So stop worrying about what everyone else thinks.  Just keep living your truth.  The only people that will fault you for doing so are those who want you to live a lie.

4.  Society’s materialistic measurement of worth is worthless.

When you find yourself trapped between what moves you and what society tells you is right for you, always travel the route that makes you feel alive – unless you want everyone to be happy, except you.  No matter where life takes you, big cities or small towns, you will inevitably come across others who think they know what’s best for you – people who think they’re better than you – people who think happiness, success and beauty mean the same things to everyone.

They’ll try to measure your worth based on what you have, instead of who you are.  But you know better than that – material things don’t matter.  Don’t chase the money.  Catch up to the ideas and activities that make you come alive.  Go for the things of greater value – the things money can’t buy.  What matters is having strength of character, an honest heart, and a sense of self-worth.  If you’re lucky enough to have any of these things, never sell them.  Never sell yourself short.

5.  Life isn’t a race; you have nothing to prove.

Everyone wants to get to the top of the mountain first and shout, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  But the truth is, all your happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing, not while you’re sitting at the top.  Enjoy the journey by paying attention to each step.  Don’t rush through your life and miss it.  Forget where everyone else is in relation to you.  This isn’t a race.  You get there a little at a time, not all at once.

Let go of the foolish need to prove yourself to everyone else, and you’ll free yourself to accomplish what matters most to you.  Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you don’t have to always be and do what everyone else is being and doing.

6.  The path to all great things passes through failure.

You are an ever-changing work in progress.  You don’t have to always be right, you just have to not be too worried about being wrong.  Screwing up is part of the process.  Looking like a fool sometimes is the only way forward.  If you try too hard to impress everyone else with your “perfection,” you will stunt your growth.  You will spend all your time looking a certain way, instead of living a certain way.

It’s impossible to live without failing sometimes, unless you live so cautiously that you aren’t really living at all – you’re merely existing.  If you’re too afraid of failing in front of others, you can’t possibly do what needs to be done to be successful in your own eyes.  You have to remember that it doesn’t matter how many times you fail or how messy your journey is, so long as you do not stop taking small steps forward.  In the end, those who don’t care that failure is inevitable are the ones that reach their dreams.  YOU can be one of them.

7.  It’s impossible to please everyone anyway.

Some people will always tell you what you did wrong, and then hesitate to compliment you for what you did right.  Don’t be one of them, and don’t put up with them.

When you run into someone who discredits you, disrespects you and treats you poorly for no apparent reason at all, don’t consume yourself with trying to change them or win their approval.  And be sure not to leave any space in your heart to hate them.  Simply walk away and let karma deal with the things they say and do, because any bit of time you spend on these people will be wasted, and any bit of hate and aggravation in your heart will only hurt you in the end.


You don’t need a standing ovation or a bestseller or a promotion or a million bucks.  You are enough right now.  You have nothing to prove.  Care less about who you are to others and more about who you are to yourself.  You will have less heartaches and disappointments the minute you stop seeking from others the validation only YOU can give yourself.

“It’s impossible to be perfect, and you won’t do a good job if you’re too focused on proving yourself to others.” – Comedian Jessica Williams

Unsolicited Advice: This is another big no-no that I deeply deplore. According to Psychology Today‘s article, “Unsolicited Advice: I Hate It, You Hate It; so Do Your Kids“:

If I’m stepping into the ocean and someone, anyone, comes over and advises me not to swim there because sharks were spotted there a few minutes age, I’m grateful. I hear this not so much as advice as useful, potentially life-saving information, which I didn’t know before. I’d feel even more grateful, though, without even the slightest tinge of annoyance, if the Good Samaritan had entirely omitted the advice part of the message (to not swim there) and just given me theinformation part (about the sharks). Then I’d feel that a decision to stay out of the water was entirely my own, based on my own capacity to think rationally, and was not in any way coerced. I wouldn’t, then, have even the slightest temptation to continue into the water just to prove that “I’ll do whatever I blankety blank well choose to do, thank you!

Why do we react this way to unsolicited advice? Why don’t we just accept it for what it often is–the other person’s genuine concern and desire to help? Others who have written on this question have suggested a number of reasonable answers. They suggest that the advice, justifiably or not, comes across to us as one-upmanship, or assertion of dominance, or criticism, or distrust, or failure to consider our own unique goals and priorities. I agree with all that, but I would add that the main, underlying answer has to do with our desire to protect our own freedom. In fact, I’m using this (and the next) essay on advice to segue into a planned series of essays on the psychology of freedom.

For good evolutionary reasons, to be discussed in a future essay, we human beings naturally crave freedom. We resist control from other people. We do this regardless of our age and regardless of whom it is who wants to control us. Married people resist control from their spouses; old people resist control from their middle-aged children; children of all ages resist control from their parents. And, of course, students resist control from their teachers, which is one reason why schools as we generally know them produce such poor results.

Unsolicited advice from loved ones can be especially threatening, because of our strong desire to please those persons. It’s hard to ignore advice from loved ones, because we implicitly fear that failure to follow it will signal lack of love or respect. At the same time, we don’t want to follow the advice, because we want to retain our autonomy. In fact, we especially don’t want to follow the advice of a loved one because, each time we do so, it feels like a step toward changing the relationship from one between equals to one of unbalanced power. By complying, we may be signaling our future willingness to subordinate ourselves to the other person’s will. “Yes, my dear, you are much smarter and more knowledgeable than I, so I’ll always do as you say.” Every act of compliance seems to tighten an imagined noose that the other has around our neck. The conflict between complying (to show our love) and not complying (to assert our freedom) creates frustration, and frustration leads to anger. And so, we feel more anger when a loved one tells us how to improve our driving–or our health, or whatever–than we do when a perfect stranger gives us such advice.

It’s easier for most people to understand the nature of this conflict when thinking about husband and wife than when thinking about parent and young child. The parent and  child are in some ways obviously unequal. The parent is bigger, stronger, more knowledgeable about many aspects of the world, and has control of more resources. But yet, in another sense, the parent and child are equals. They are equally valuable as individuals. They are equally privy to their own strongly felt drives, needs, and goals. And children, although in many ways not as knowledgeable as adults, are a lot smarter than most adults give them credit for. Children recognize their dependence on adults, but at the same time experience a powerful drive to assert their independence. From an evolutionary perspective, this drive is no accident; it is what motivates children always toward taking those risks that they must take to grow up, to find their own paths, to take charge of their own lives.

And so, my unsolicited New Year’s advice to you is that you should be as cautious about giving unsolicited advice to your children as you are about giving it to your spouse. The more you refrain from giving unsolicited advice, the more likely it will be that your children will ask you for advice when they need it and will follow that advice if it is reasonable.



One thought on “On Liking Another Person

  1. Pingback: On Hipsters | The Progressive Democrat

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