This post is a response to Why Not Want to Like? Ever since this short poem was posted last week I’ve been mulling over why we like some people and dislike others. From the link:
Why wouldn’t I want to try to like everybody I meet?
This isn’t something I’ve discussed here before but everyone has what I can best describe as their own flavour, scent or musical note. That is, each of us has a unique combination of personality traits, general interests, character, beliefs and outlook on life. Sometimes there’s an automatic sense of compatibility when two new friends meet. At other times there isn’t and personalities clash. When this happens it doesn’t mean that one person is right and the other wrong any more than it’s right or wrong to mix musical notes or spices. Some combinations work well, others won’t.
Liking someone in a platonic way has two different meanings to me: one has to do with how one acts, the other with how one feels. I can treat others with kindness, courtesy and respect but I cannot sit down one day and decide, “I’m going to enjoy person X’s company this afternoon” or “person Y is my closest friend starting…now.” My brain just doesn’t work that way. Relationships tend to have lives of their own and I’ve been surprised more than once by who has and has not become a good friend.
So I’m going to assume that liking people in the above link refers to how we treat them. Under that assumption I completely agree with the above post. (It would be incredible if we were able to flip a brain switch and choose which emotions others stir up, though!)
What is fascinating is how much choosing to act in certain ways around others can influence what one thinks about them over time. I’ve seen people who were once defensive or angry but who chose to remain respectful and de-escalatory gradually repair unhealthy relationships. Others I’ve known have forged adamantium-strength bonds with people from such radically different paths that I never would have pictured them getting along so splendidly.
The entire topic reminds me of being told to love everyone when I was a Christian. As a child and teenager I couldn’t imagine doing this. Love was a natural outgrowth of relationships formed over many years. It wasn’t something that could be harvested and passed out to the hungry like ripe tomatoes.
Eventually someone explained that what it meant was we should be treating everyone the way we’d want our relatives to be treated by strangers, not that I literally had to love every other person in the universe as much as I did family and friends. That helped. Mostly. (What can I say? I was the sort of Christian who took these things extremely seriously!)
How do you interpret calls to “love your neighbour” or “like everyone you meet” in your daily life? Can you control whether or not you like someone? If so, will you teach me how to do it? 😛