For those of you who enjoy watching movies and are around my age, you may remember the moment Sally Field received an Oscar for Best Actress in the 1985 film Places in the Heart. She was glowing and gushing as she delivered her acceptance speech, her bouncy curls combed high atop her head as was the style. (Watch the clip here.) She mentioned her cast and crew and her family and then went on to say something that has been mimicked and mocked ever since and I quote, “But I want to say thank you to you. I haven’t had an orthodox career and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it. And I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now! You like me!”
If you watch that clip through, you’ll notice immediately after Sally spouts these now infamous lines the camera pans out on a number of women in the audience who have tears in their eyes. Even though Sally was mercilessly ridiculed, I think what she said resonated with us, at least those of us who are honest with ourselves.
We all want to be liked. Truly, we want to be loved, as we are, but we’ll settle for being liked. It makes us feel good about ourselves to have other people’s approval. It validates our existence. We think that if people like us, we must be worth something. It starts early. Children, as soon as they can talk, say, “Look at me. Look what I can do.” They want more than just our attention, they want our praise and our encouragement and we give it to them, but when they stop asking for it, probably somewhere around junior high, we seem to stop offering it, at least less frequently. Yet, we don’t outgrow our need for it.
Some people our instantly likable because they’re famous, rich, powerful, physically attractive, stylish, talented, intelligent, or funny, but these folks may wonder whether people truly like them for who they or just want something from them. Those who didn’t hit the genetic jackpot or those who are shy and introverted often have to work at being liked.The socially awkward, those who are always saying and doing the wrong thing, may give up on being liked, discovering it’s much easier to be alone. The rebels in society, those who flaunt their utter disregard for rules, who don’t seem to care if they’re liked, actually do care about being liked, but only by their own kind. People pleasers want so desperately to be liked that they’ll completely expend themselves, their time and resources, on others. They’re so afraid of diminished affirmation that the word “no” is absent from their vocabulary.
Likability is important for politicians, actors, musicians, athletes, artists, and authors who live off the backs of their fans. My dad, who always has a book going, found one in the bargain bin that he thought looked interesting. He was moved by it and so took the time to pen a note to the author offering his appreciation. The author wrote him back, telling my dad he had posted the letter near his desk as a reminder that what he was doing, painstakingly putting his mind and heart down on paper day after day, meant something to someone else. A stranger’s approval was important enough to him that he wanted to keep it in his line of sight.
We do tell people we like them. We applaud soloists, bands, orchestras, and casts of plays. We cheer on our children as they wobble about a field trying to connect with some sort of ball and we root for our favorite sports teams. We recognize peoples distinctive accomplishments at awards banquets. We express our approval by emptying our wallets. We often read books, watch movies, and try new restaurants based on other people’s favorable opinions.
With the advent of social media, we have many more opportunities to tell others we like them. Our loved one’s and friend’s thoughts, feelings, family photos, vacations, latest hairstyles, fancy meals, and pets provide us with ample fair to exercise our “liking” capabilities. We don’t even have to say the words. We just have to click the handy little button. Facebook even provides alternative emotional responses, such as love, laughter, surprise, sadness, and anger. We can like away!
I have an acquaintance who is a blogger. Someone on my Facebook feed posted some of his writing and I noticed he was local and decided to take a look. He’s a gifted, intelligent, articulate man who’s been blogging for 10 years and we share a similar worldview. I requested his friendship on Facebook and he accepted without ever having met me, which I thought was kind and just a little reckless. Maybe he should have searched out and talked to my family first. I met him, unexpectedly, in the public library. Walking by the stacks, I glanced down an aisle and recognized him and introduced myself. I was like one of his fans except that I didn’t ask him for an autograph.
I started reading his posts, going through his favorites over the years, and noticed something curious. After 10 years of faithful posting, incisive, thought-provoking, funny, heartwarming posting, he didn’t have a lot of likes. Where I expected there to be hundreds of votes of confidence for him, there may have been only a handful. Now, WordPress only introduced the like button in 2010 and only WordPress bloggers can use it. The public can’t access it which I think is so unhelpful of WordPress. Looking at the number of likes on an article would never give one a true indication of how many people had read it or liked it, for that matter, but it still caused me to wonder.
Is there a dearth of encouragement in our world? Are we stingy? Is that why social media was born to feed our emaciated, love-starved souls? We’ve all heard the sad truth that it takes five positive comments to make up for one negative one. Criticism can be so damaging, especially if it’s not constructive. It breaks my heart to think that there are people who grow up abused in all it’s heinous forms rather than loved. Affirmation, encouragement, support, that’s what love does. I know there are those who worry that we have become a society of narcissists, internet zombies virtually loitering on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like, with likes in our eyes. These people would withhold praise to keep from swelling their spouses, their children’s, their friend’s heads. Yet, I hear so much insecure talk around me and fully admit to being insecure myself, I wrote a post about it, that I believe there’s little to worry about in this regard. Social media aside, I don’t think we’re getting the job done.
So, we do tell people we like them collectively, but we don’t tell them individually and why is that? Here’s what I think and feel free to contribute to this list in the comments section:
- We’re preoccupied with ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, dreams, desires, plans, and agendas.
- We’re too proud to praise another. Our ego is so clunky, it gets in the way of our ability to give. We fear we’ll lose something if we acknowledge the abilities or success of another, viewing that person as a competitor rather than a compatriot.
- We’re too busy. It takes thought plus time to tell someone what they mean to us. A note, email, or unhurried coffee may not fit into our already overcrowded calendars.
- We’re distracted by our hobbies, phones, the internet, our pressing entertainment schedules and so the moment passes and we figure we’ll get to it another time, but we never do.
- We think it has to be formal, that we have to go to a card shop and spend an hour looking for the right words written by a stranger in lilting prose or flowery rhyming couplets paired with some pastoral nature scene or sweet, plump bird perched on a branch .
- We fear the possibility of being rejected, that our admiration won’t be accepted or appreciated.
Scripture never fails to give us a good word for every situation. Jesus, up on the hillside in his famous sermon on the mount, delivered what has been coined the golden rule recorded in Matthew 7:12, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” He’s not saying to treat others as they treat us, which is how most of the world lives and which makes for a very tumultuous existence. No, he’s saying to think about how we want to be treated and act accordingly. We want encouragement. We need it. So, according to Jesus we should be giving it to others, without guarantee that it will be returned.
A couple verses before this, Jesus talks about how no one would give their hungry child a stone, if she asked for a fish. Are we lobbing rocks rather than showering compliments? Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Jesus is described in John 1:14 as being full of grace and truth and as his followers we should aspire to speak with the same gentleness, kindness, and sincerity. Our words should strengthen others, helping them to stand taller, enhancing their lives.
When we build each other up with honest praise, we’re doing more than propping up egos, we’re growing and reinforcing community, a benefit for all. Can you imagine a world where everyone felt loved, encouraged, and supported, valued for who they are and the contribution they make? It’s not going to happen if we don’t get our lips flapping. We have endless likes in us. Really, it costs us nothing, other than intention, attention, action, and time. We just have to start doling it out, generously and with cheer! Tell people you like them; their eyes, hair, fashion sense, smile, laugh, goofiness (I adore goofy people), jokes, personality, thoughtfulness, ideas, art, music, writing, work ethic, their gardens, their meals, their smooth dance steps, the way they carry themselves. You’ll never not have something good to say! If I see something I like about someone I’m walking by, I tell them. You might be afraid to do this and that’s okay. Start by telling the people you love, your family and friends. Start where you are with the people you interact with everyday. Let’s start dropping love bombs instead of F-bombs. We might just change the world one like at a time.
Complete the experience. Listen to Toby Mac’s Speak Life.
Posts come out every Monday morning, a poem every third Monday. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my posts via email. Follow me on Instagram username: pollyeloquent. Thanks for reading. 🙂