Choosing Friends, Choosing Enemies

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? 😛

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0 Responses to Choosing Friends, Choosing Enemies

  1. I like your distinction between how we act and how we feel as I think that is critical here. I have folks who I know mean well and at some level like me, but I don’t feel a connection with them for whatever reason. Nevertheless, I can always try to treat them with respect as I would want to be treated, so I think that is the like everyone you meet. That being said, we are all subject to “triggers” something a person says or how they look or whatever that triggers an emotional reaction in us which has nothing to do with the person at all and when we get triggered, one it is sometimes hard to recognize and so we mistakenly think it is something to do with the person, and two, even when we recognize that we have been triggered it is sometimes hard not to react emotionally. And then there is three, bad days where it is just hard to be present or engaged with another no matter what. However, personally I do try at least to treat everyone with the respect that I would like to see in reverse, no matter what the feelings side may be, if that makes any sense. You have a way of asking very tough, thought-provoking questions which is, of course, why I like your blog so much!

    • Thanks, Daphne.

      When I have a bad day I try to stay away from other people as much as possible. It’s far too easy to take it out on someone who has done nothing to deserve my grumpiness. 🙁 (Sometimes this isn’t possible, of course…)

  2. Sarah Taylor

    I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately. It’s not good enough for me, though, to think of liking everyone merely as treating everyone well. I think it has to be something deeper than that (in terms of the Christian call to love everyone, anyway). And it does seem impossible, and I don’t have solutions (besides rejecting thoughts about people that I find to be gossipy–as if I’m gossiping with myself), but I want to be able to foster affection, not just good treatment, for everyone in my path. I am not. at. all. a person who easily likes everyone (or even most people), so I’m embarking on an interesting experiment of sorts right now with this. God help me. 🙂


    • Now this is fascinating.

      Do you have any sort of plan as to how you’re going to do this? What would be the benefit of fostering affection with everyone you meet?

      It makes sense to build this bond with one or a few people who may be a little rough around the edges but who seem like they’d be good friends. What I don’t understand is why one would do this with everyone? At a certain point I need reciprocity in my friendships because they require more energy and are deeper/more meaningful than just being friendly to a stranger or acquaintance.

      I don’t know if I’m a people person or not. Some people I like from the first time we meet, others take a while to figure out and sometimes I know immediately that I don’t like someone. (That isn’t common, though!)

      • Sarah Taylor

        I’m not going for some deep and abiding connection with everyone; I just want warmth, I guess. I want to be able to feel warm toward people and interact with them out of a heart that genuinely enjoys them. If we’re going with the how-we-want-our-relatives-to-be-treated-by-strangers thing, I don’t just want my youngest sister (who’s seven) to be treated politely; I want her to be loved. I want strangers to see her value and be in awe of her glory and love her in accordance with her nature–one who is created in the image of God. I’m sure this all sounds very idealistic, and it is, but I also think it’s extremely important. As far as fostering this within myself, I don’t think this can happen on a superficial, I-will-just-need-to-remind-myself-that-everyone’s-created-in-the-image-of-God sort of way; I need to believe this at my core and recognize in people what I’m blinded to in my hatred of weakness (which I think is at the core of my dislike for some people). I want to be a lover at my core because I think it’s the most fun, freeing, honest way to be. I think it’s giving honor where honor is due–not manufacturing feelings so I can feel good about being nice.

        There are two people in one of my classes who really bother me. The other day, instead of thinking about how annoying they are (which is what I typically do in those situations), I decided to reject that thought as a lie unworthy of reflection. I didn’t get farther than that–just, every time that would occur to me, I’d refuse to give it air time. That’s about as far as I am with this right now. 🙂

        • Sarah Taylor

          One more thought: I’ve never understood the “I love you, but I don’t like you” sentiment. I think it’s harder to like someone than to love them, the way our culture defines those two things (the way we get around it is that we basically don’t define love and just say we have that for the person, whatever that is). I don’t feel loved by someone if they don’t like me. I think it’s a dichotomy that doesn’t reflect reality.

          • I see what you’re saying here, Sarah. But I also find that I can give someone what I would call love, compassion, empathy, goodwill, even of myself, without being able to enjoy their company. I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t or don’t enjoy mine, but wouldn’t necessarily say they “dislike” me. They’d do anything they could to help me if I needed it, they just don’t want to “hang out” with me. That’s okay with me. I can’t please everyone and everyone can’t please me. I would never say to someone, “I love you, but I don’t like you.” If I don’t enjoy their company they likely never even know that.

          • Sarah Taylor

            D’Ma, I agree that you could give someone goodwill without enjoying them. But I don’t think you could properly say that you love them. I think we say that as a way to get out of doing some hard work within ourselves, or to get out of facing the reality that we just don’t love some people well. If the baseline of love is giving someone help when they need it, that’s a pretty low standard. We often have this idea that we can’t take delight in people with whom we disagree, or in people who have characteristics that rub us the wrong way, and I’m taking issue with all of that. I think if we don’t find a way, we’re not loving those people well. We can call it many things, but I don’t think we can call it love.

          • Do you think it’s possible to enjoy the company of everyone? I can tolerate anyone. I can be around them, it just may not necessarily be enjoyable. Just because a person doesn’t enjoy my company doesn’t mean I think they don’t love me. I guess I’m thinking more of agape type love. The kind of love that isn’t conditional on whether I like the person or not. I don’t agree that agape love means liking everyone. Jesus said to pray for our enemies. That denotes he thought we’d have some. We’re supposed to love them.

          • Sarah Taylor

            I don’t know if it’s possible. Maybe it’s not. But I think it should be the goal anyway, I guess. I’m not sure any kind of love isn’t conditional upon having affection. If your heart isn’t in it–if you don’t have some kind of warmth that manifests itself in action–then I don’t think it can be called love (and I believe affection is a part of a agape). Praying for our enemies inclines our hearts toward them…separating feelings of affection from actions seems me to be missing the boat.

          • I don’t think you can give of yourself to another person without having feelings of affection. The kind of love I’m speaking of is an active kind of love. Example: There are people I don’t enjoy being around because they are negative and pessimistic. I simply don’t enjoy being around them. I can give of myself to them, cook them food, babysit their children, mow their lawn, pull their weeds. My heart is for their best interest, but it doesn’t mean I want to spend my Saturday afternoon shopping with them.

            I guess everyone has their own definition of love.

          • We had a couple in our church over for dinner one Sunday. The wife was a wonderful person. Likable. Easy to talk to. The husband? A waste of a person. I had nothing in common with him. I may have been his pastor but we had no connection at all. We spent Sunday talking to the wife. The husband fell asleep on the couch 10 minutes after eating. I was glad. I didn’t have to make phony nice talk. I may have had my Jesus smile on but inwardly I thought this guy was a cretin.

          • So, I’m curious to hear how you act around people who rub you the wrong way. Do you go out of your way to find likable aspects of their personalities? Do you try to ignore or find a good reason for whatever it is that makes them difficult people to like/love?

            (This isn’t a trick question! I don’t have a good answer myself and thought you might. 🙂 )

  3. During my pastoring days I went out of my way to like everyone and try to get everyone to like me. Now I was quite willing to have conflict if the stakes were high enough, but as a rule I preferred to be at peace with others. I decided at the time that I loved everybody but I loved some people more than others. (I was pastor to some wonderful people but I was also pastor to some of the biggest ass***es on earth)

    Fast forward to today….I no longer try to like everyone. Truth is there are some people I don’t want to like and I have little time to play the pretend “let’s be nice” game.

    I make a big distinction between love and like. I love my wife but there are some days I don’t like her. I know my wife and kids love me but I also know there are days were I am not too high on their like list. 🙂


  4. I’ve never thought of the call to “love our neighbors” as a call to like everybody. I agree that there are some people you enjoy spending time with and others that it’s more like fingernails on a chalkboard. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I don’t have to like everybody I love. This is especially true of family members. You can have empathy, compassion, bestow good will on others, and give them the proverbial shirt off your back without desiring to spend great amounts of time in their presence. 🙂

    • Most people probably don’t interpret it that way. I’ve always had very high expectations for my behaviour. 🙂

      And good point about family members!

      • I’ve always had very high expectations for my behavior as well. I tend to feel really badly if I snap at someone. I try to live by the “do unto others as you would have done unto you” rule. When I fall short of that I feel extremely guilty.

  5. Seph

    I’m not sure what I think about this.

    Trying to get everybody to like me has never been high on my priority list.
    I’ve always found that – although I may not know the secret to success – I most definitely know the secret to failure; and that’s to try to get everybody to like you.
    You’ll never succeed. People generally think what they choose.
    The best I can do is not give them the reasons (or excuses) to justify what they choose to think.

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