Give Yourself Permission To Be Disliked
Years before I was to make my entrance into this world, one of my older family members, born and raised deep in the Bible Belt, was a devout disciple of a certain televangelist. She worked at a major employer in her area and no matter how friendly she was, no matter much she went out of her way to be useful and engaging, there was a person at the company who utterly despised her to the point this individual couldn’t conceal their disdain. Exasperated, my family member called the prayer line of the televangelist and was connected to one of the preacher’s faith partners. My family member pleaded, “Please pray with me to have God to change this coworker’s heart so they like me. I’m friends with everybody. There’s no reason they hate me so much.”
The lady on the other end of the phone was quiet for a moment. When she finally spoke, she asked, “Who told you that everybody was going to like you? You weren’t promised that. In this world, there are going to be people who hate you for one reason or another, perhaps even without justification. As long as you’ve examined yourself and are sure it’s not something you’re doing wrong, if you’ll let me, I’d instead like to pray with you that God helps you find peace with the situation so it doesn’t steal your joy and you can move on to more edifying things.”
Say what you will about the televangelists of a generation ago but there was a great wisdom in what that woman said.
To the extent that is possible and moral, your source of happiness in life cannot come from other people’s perceptions of you, it has to come from an inner scorecard. Many people are going to dislike you, some strongly, for reasons small and great. Sometimes, it is because you remind them of a person they loathe or an experience that angers them. Sometimes, it’s because your basic psychological makeup doesn’t mesh with theirs. Frequently, it’s due to different culture codes. If you are successful or excel in a particular area, add a few extra helpings of disdain. Say something that challenges a belief they have, triggering cognitive bias, and the defense mechanisms kick in so their first response is to attack you personally rather than your ideas. More than a few times in your life, you will meet someone who hates you simply because you are happy, loved, and successful. On the flip side, there are those who will look down on you because you are poor and unlucky. In a lot of cases, you are nothing more than a blank wall upon which they project their biases, assumptions, associations, and beliefs. They will grab on to some snippet of you – your height, your hair, your skin color, your name, your accent, your education, your occupation – and build an entire profile in a matter of seconds, filling in the blanks with things that may not in any way resemble who you are, what you believe, what you value, or how you behave.
The higher your profile rises in life, the more you are going to be disliked. The key is to be disliked by the right people. You can tell a lot about the quality of a person by the nature of their enemies. When Charlie Munger had the Mutual Savings and Loan Association resign from the United States League of Savings Institutions on May 30th, 1989, using words like “flawed”, “disgraceful”, “cancer”, “significant carcinogenic agent”, “obdurately”, and “self-serving nonsense”, it didn’t do much for his reputation with certain quarters made up of men who thought him arrogant, elitist, and sanctimonious. It also didn’t change the fact that he was right. Of course, learning to mitigate this as much as possible is in your own self-interest but there’s a difference between strategic behavior and internalizing something so that you’re handing over the keys to your happiness to others.
If you want to go far in life, you are going to have to get over the idea that you need a stamp of approval from everybody. You don’t need anyone’s permission to succeed. In fact, it makes it considerably more difficult. You can be the Ritz Carlton or you can be the Super 8, doing extraordinarily well as either. You should not attempt to be both because you will fail. No matter what you choose, the vitriol will flow the higher you rise so make sure you are happy with your selection. You cannot be all things to all people.
The same is true even in the small day-to-day interactions. If you donate food, someone is going to complain about the recipe. If you offer to make the decorations, someone is going to complain it wasn’t how they would have done it. This cannot be avoided. Instead, make sure that you’re behaving with integrity. Improve yourself as much as you can each day and use objective data as much as possible to check that your output is the best you are capable of producing. Be fair and just even when you don’t feel like it. Never apologize for the victories you’ve won or the blessings you’ve been given. Always, in every situation, be the better person not for them, but for yourself, because you hold yourself to a higher standard. You won’t always live up to those standards but forgive yourself and get on with it. Don’t go along with nonsense just because it’s popular. Be kind to people but not to ideas. (This notion that has arisen in the past few years that all ideas are equally valid and that all beliefs are equally worthy of respect is asinine.)
Since I began this post with a story involving religion, let me borrow a concept from Dolly Parton, who is herself devout. When you find yourself on the flip side, tempted to lose your temper or dismiss someone entirely, try to take a moment and see what she called the “God light” in them; the piece of divinity – whether you believe that is a specific entity or, to paraphrase a scientist, the great cosmic stardust that animates us all, forged in the fires of creation billions of years ago – that makes them worthy of love. My dad taught us this concept when we were kids by pointing out when we were driving or at a stoplight, “Look at all of the other cars. Each of those people has a life that matters to them; people who love them. Dramas are unfolding in their lives right now. They have things they’re worried about and things they’re looking forward to experiencing. Never forget that. They matter.”
It’s easy to behave better when you think about it that way. Maybe they are reacting to you in fear. Maybe they’re bored. Maybe, heaven help them, they’re truly dumb and don’t know any other way. Maybe they’re simply cruel or evil. Maybe they’re broken; damaged beyond repair and you’re getting a piece of the shard caught in your foot as you walk by them. Whatever it is, no matter how you respond, if you respond at all, come from a place of love. (Love is not necessarily synonymous with nice nor is nice synonymous with good.) That doesn’t mean opening the door, again, or allowing someone back into your life but it does mean having a basic respect for the dignity of another person. This is a lot easier when you know who you are, and are confident in yourself.
Each of us is given such a short window of time on this Earth to experience life. You have to do you. Let others say what they will. Go after what it is you want, spend your time surrounded by people you love and who love you, and shine. We’re here for but a blink. Do you really want to waste it?