Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Longing to be Liked

When the disciples of the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking Him whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, they open up with the following words:
"Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status." -Matthew 22:16 (emphasis mine)
This is one trait of Jesus that I deeply admire (although to be fair I admire all His traits, but that's beside the point), and I admire that trait in the people around me who possess it:  The disregard for what others thought of Him, and the resulting courage to speak the truth without caring what it might make others say or believe about Him.  Jesus was no addict of human opinion, and I have friends and loved ones who are similar; not perfect as our Lord was, of course, but still, I have the honor of knowing people who largely are "not concerned with anyone's opinion," and who therefore are not prone to dancing away from speaking truth when it desperately needs to be said but might offend someone.

I, on the other hand, have for many years now been dominated by a desire for others to think well of me.  I am a people pleaser, and it pains me to say that.  I do not generally allow this to sway me toward standing up for the wrong things, but I often don't stand as clearly or emphatically for the right things.  I might speak a truth vaguely when it would be better to speak it plainly.  Or I might say nothing at all when speaking up would be better.  So even though I rarely, if ever, compromise the truth or alter my beliefs to please others, it's all too common for me to just avoid thorny issues.  I know that, on this very blog, I've tackled many such issues, and I'm also more easily to do so on internet forums, but it's a different story in real life if I find myself faced with someone with all the wrong values, or even on my Facebook wall, where I will occasionally make a controversial statement, be bombarded with argument and confrontation from people I actually know, then go for months before I'm willing to take such a risk again.

Okay, I think I'll just stay in here for a while.

In many ways, this is bound up in my fear of confrontation and conflict.  People who dislike me are more likely to confront me disrespectfully.  If someone becomes angry at some opinion I have, forceful or heated arguments might get started up.  These habits are also tied to my tendency to take offense easily.  Because I am so easily offended by criticism or even open disagreement with me (something I'm ashamed to admit), I am afraid to speak out in ways that may make others feel criticized, both because of my empathy directing me to not make them feel a way I wouldn't want to feel and, more selfishly, the knowledge that if they are offended, they will understandably take the liberty of saying things that offend me.  It's much easier to live with an uneasy truce of sorts, a truce that says "I won't say things that offend you, if you don't say things that offend me."

Unfortunately, Christians do not have the liberty of observing that truce.  Jesus said things that offended people all the time.  He didn't worry about whether or not His saying truths that offend would incite His opponents to say things that offended Him.  And preaching the Gospel has always been accompanied with standing upon Christian values, and people have always been able to find offense in those values, as surely as Herod's wife took offense at the preaching of John the Baptist--for which she plotted his death!  So it's nothing new:  If you preach the truth, people will be offended, and they will do their best to offend you in return.  They may not have the power to have you beheaded, in a literal physical offense, but they will try to tear down what you hold dear, and you for your part will not even be left with the option of saying "Please don't do this!" when, for all intents and purposes, you were willing to poke holes in what they held dear.

It seems that Jesus and the boldest Christian evangelists were willing to say "fair is fair."  If they said things that caused others offense, they were willing to "take it" when others responded in kind.  They might not take it lying down, and Jesus in particular was quite willing to defend Himself.  But none of them, unlike me, seemed to be hurt by the very notion that their opponents would dare to "strike back."  They invited the sparring, even to the point of their own literal deaths.  That is the courage of a martyr, or of our crucified Lord.  And it is a courage that I lack, wishing to stay safe in a realm where I am considered "nice," "easy to get along with," and "reasonable," so that others may in turn be nice, easy to get along with, and reasonable toward me.

We'll even shake on it!

"Woe to you when men speak well of you!"  What a sobering reminder from our Lord, one that convicts a person like me to his core!  I believe You, Lord!  But what can I do to embrace Your cross, Your Truth?

That is my lament.  I want to have the courage to risk being unliked, to be insulted, and thought a fool.  I want to have the fortitude to welcome offense, or to be harder to offend, if offense is the consequence of breaking that "truce" I mentioned earlier.  I just don't quite know how.  I obviously know what I need to know intellectually.  It's emotions that won't follow.  And while it's often true that we just have to go against our emotions and do the right thing, by "emotions" I mean crippling anxiety, so that sometimes overcoming it is not just a matter of saying "That emotion is unreasonable, so I will not let it control me," but rather would require the same sort of effort as forcing oneself to jump into a pit full of snakes.  And I just don't know how to get past that barrier.

Perhaps some of you readers are farther along this road than I.  Perhaps you speak up, whatever the cost.  Perhaps you don't care much what others think of you, or you're able to overcome it if you do.  If that's the case, please share with me in the comments:  How do you do it?  How do you prevent yourself from caring so much what people think, or manage to find freedom from anxiety despite caring so much?  How do you force yourself to take the plunge into that metaphorical pit of snakes?  How is it that you get past your own fear of being offended, or even that you manage to avoid taking offense in the first place?

If you have any pearls of wisdom to share, then you won't only be sharing them with me, but with anyone else who reads this and who can relate to these crippling anxieties and cares.  I'm sure I speak for them too when I say you'll have our gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. Raising kids will help quash the urge to be liked. I used to tell my kids, "I don't care if you love me or like me. I care that you do what you're supposed to do. So do it or else."