Can you tell that I'm trying to make up -- in one night -- for not blogging for two weeks? These posts are all coming off the top of my head without nearly the level of editing I usually do.
This is a pre-post because I'm hoping to blog more extensively on this later. I'm in Toastmasters International, an organization that helps people become better public speakers. I'll be doing a speech called "The Art of Being Disliked." My point is that we burn up way too much energy worrying about if people like us. It's reasonable to want to be liked by most others. Being liked makes it easier to get things done, it makes for more harmonious families, communities and work places, and it's nice. But when you take it too far, it leads to letting people rule your life. That's bad.
I've lived in Chicago for almost 21 years and I'm still baffled by how important Midwesterners think it is to be nice. I've seen people stuff their feelings for years, afraid to express themselves because they didn't want to rock the boat. Sometimes this is completely valid and reasonable, but sometimes people take it too far. I've seen someone finally air opinions they've been holding in and you know what? The world didn't end, they weren't ostracized from society and they didn't drop dead. They didn't lose the respect and admiration of the person they were telling. Why is it so hard for people to take the risk of being honest?
A five-minute rant isn't a strong rhetorical statement to make, so my speech will try to focus on encouraging people to let go of their need to be liked. Practically speaking, I keep in mind that someone thinking negative things about me doesn't have any effect on me at all unless I care what they think. So I make a point of not caring. The next thing that happens after someone stops liking me is usually...nothing.
At this point in my speech I might point out to my Toastmasters club (of which I'm the current president) that there are undoubtedly people in the room right now who don't like me or who at least have a good reason to dislike me. I might invite them all to take a moment to focus on whatever they dislike about me. I'll give them a few seconds to do that, then I'll mock-clutch at my neck and say, "I can't breathe!" Then I'll immediately drop that act and give them all a dooky look (the look that says, "Are you serious? Come on!"). In this way I'll show them that there's nothing that their thinking badly of me can do to me.
Again, there ARE times when it's very important to worry about what someone's thinking. You don't want your boss thinking badly of you, or a potential client. You don't want to rock the boat if someone's already stressed and what you have to say isn't urgent, etc. But way too much of the time people worry about the opinion of those who don't have any power over them at all, people whose opinions don't matter much. We wince at what the checkout person might think of us buying fresh greens, rice milk, brown rice and one shameful chocolate eclair.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THAT PERSON'S OPINION MAKE? NONE. Zero. The checkout person probably sees all kinds of food combinations and really doesn't care. And yet people fret about this stuff. That's why I think it's time for a speech on "The Art of Being Disliked." Break your focus on the opinions of others by embracing the idea of being disliked. Being disliked isn't nearly as horrible-nightmarish as we fear.