In the movie “Fences”, Cory, a teenage boy who has a strained relationship with his father finally asks him, “How come you ain’t never liked me?” In response, his father Troy Maxson (played by Denzel Washington) scolds him and says something that stuck with me: “Now don’t go through life worrying about whether somebody like you or not! You best be makin’ sure they’re doin’ right by you.”
I have been thinking about this statement for days now since I watched that movie. I found myself asking: who were you before you started to care about being accepted? What did you like? What did you find intolerable? Who are you now? How many dreams have you given up? How much have you lost?
We are always seeking to be liked despite the “I don’t care what people think” façade. We want people to think that we are good. So we become agreeable. Instead of speaking our minds, we concur with popular opinion.
We are disloyal friends. We reveal secrets told to us in confidence or participate in defamation, rumour mongering and spreading lies to catch other people’s attention.
The last thing we want is for people to think we are unsociable or unlovable so instead of setting ground rules to govern our personal spaces, we become too compliant. We laugh at offensive jokes.
We smile much more than we want to. We walk on eggshells around people. We drink and eat we don’t like and go to places that are uncomfortable for us.
When someone accuses us of being ‘too tough’ or too difficult we set out to be pleasant. We pay insincere compliments and give people much more credit and reverence than they deserve.
We let people walk all of over us without any retribution as long they can say nice things about us on our birthdays, at our weddings and funerals.
What do we do when our employers, relatives or friends underpay us or cheat us of what’s rightfully ours? Do we speak up? Do we let them know our worth or do we smile and hug them and do everything we can to continue being in their good graces even if it’s unfair to us?
We spend our lives afraid to walk our own paths. We are afraid to make independent choices because if we do that then we have only ourselves to blame and God knows we are always looking for exoneration.
We sacrifice ourselves at the altar of approval every time we show up when we don’t want to, every time we let people bully us into doing things their way, and every time we let people disrespect our spaces. Every time we are not authentic, we give pieces of ourselves away.
When we seek approval, we seek permission to live. The truth is that society cannot grant this permission. We will never live up to anyone’s expectations because those expectations are aligned with their selfish desires.