Our Likes and Dislikes
One day I was asked to give a short talk at a college for women. As usual after such talks, there was a question-and-answer period during which I attempted to answer questions from members of the audience.
One girl asked me: “How do you feel when a newspaper writer gives you one of your books a bad review? I would feel terrible if any one wrote such hateful things about me or the work I had done.”
Believing that her question was easy to answer, I began with confidence: “Well, of course, no author would agree that it’s pleasant to read unfavorable criticism. But no one can expect to be liked by everyone. Certain things about you please some people but cause others to dislike you.”
“Take your own personal life, for example. You know that not everybody likes you. You have probably noticed that-“
The strange expression on her young face caused me to stop. Her eyes opened wider; she turned a little pale. Suddenly I realized that my words were shocking the ears of my young questioner; it had never occurred to this 19-year-old girl that anyone could dislike her-not her!
For a moment I didn’t know what more to say. Nor did one else. And, as I looked from one sober face to another, I knew the reason – I had given them one of the unpleasant facts of life.
For their own good, those girls should have learned that lesson long ago. Yet the thought came to me that day, and has come many times since, that we didn’t really understand much about our likes and dislikes. They are ever-present in our daily lives, familiar to all adults, but no one can really explain them.
On the first day in school, a new teacher faces a group of children, all unknown to her. The children face an adult whom they have never seen before. The teacher writes a few words on the blackboard gives a few directions, and then they all go to the first assembly of the school year.
But already most of the children know whether they like the teacher or not. And already the teacher has thought, “The little boy with freckles and the girl with long hair – I’m going to enjoy having them in the class.”
Take the case of a person who just had an operation in a hospital. Even before his mind is free from the effects of an anesthetic, he likes some and dislikes others of the nurses who are coming and going in his room. He has not seen them long enough to know anything about their qualities. He simply likes the redheaded nurse best.
A Different Opinion
On the other hand, the man in the next room, also fighting away the effects of an anesthetic, may whisper to the doctor, “Keep redheaded nurse out of my room. She makes me uneasy. I prefer the little fat one.”
Not Real Reason
As you look around you at people in a store or on a street corner, why do you like some and dislike others?
These preferences at first sight often change as quickly as they appear. Only the most stubborn people insist they never change their minds about a like or a dislike. But when one’s likes and dislikes become permanent, they are as difficult as ever to explain.
This fact is so lacking in common sense that most people refuse to admire it. We bring up all sorts of reasons for our feelings. We say, for example, “l like Pete because he is cheerful.”
But even as we speak, we remember, if we are honest, that Joe is cheerful and we dislike him. The simple point is that we like Pete and so we like his being cheerful; we don’t like Joe and hence we dislike his cheerfulness.
And don’t claim that you like anybody for his virtue, or dislike him for his faults. How many really good people do you dislike? An how many times have you admitted, “Well, I know he doesn’t pay his debts and he always avoids doing his duty – but I just can’t help liking the fellow.”
Our likes and dislikes usually have nothing to do our self- interest. The sick man who murmurs that he prefers the redheaded nurse has no idea whether she is a better nurse than the others. The child gazing at a new teacher likes her not because he thinks she can teach him better than another teacher. He doesn’t like her because he can get more education from her. Certainly not! He just likes her.
Are our personal likes and dislikes so mysterious that we can learn nothing about the conduct of life from a careful study of them? Well, maybe one thing: that it is desirable to admit we will encounter some persons who dislike us. We should accept this fact and not worry about it.
A Timeless Problem
We can avoid much unhappiness if we realize that feelings of likes and dislikes are universal. It is foolish not to understand this. Yet I have an idea that many a doctor, lawyer, merchant or teacher suffers from a shock like the one suffered by the college girl when he sees dislikes in the eyes of someone who is looking at him.
If we could accept such shocks as easily as we accept the weather, our minds would be much less troubled. We might learn to act with fairness toward the occasional person who feels for us the dislike we feel once in a while for someone else. Beyond that, the best thing is to accept the situation and try to forget it.
Although this problem of likes and dislikes always concerns us when we’re in the presence of others, it is never seriously treated by a doctor, a minister or any anyone else who tries to help us understand life. Did you ever see a reputable book on the subject? I never did. Commercially minded people may make money by teaching us tricks which are supposed to make people like us, so that we can become popular with our companions or become better salesmen or earn higher salaries. But that is about all.
The poets from time to time have reached for the truth in this matter. Elizabeth Barrett wrote about it in the sonnet beginning:
If you must love me, let
It be for naught
Except for love’s sake only.
Do not say
“I love her for her smile – her look – her way
Of seeking gently – for a trick of thought.”
Later she repeats “love me for love’s sake.’
But it was a student in a classroom a century or so ago who wrote four lines to express this universal experience – lines which will probably become immortal:
I do not like thee, Dr. Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell,
But this I know and know full well –
I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.
Audience, a group of people listening or watchin
Review, an account or a description of a book
Criticism, a judgment or an opinion
Sober, thoughtful; serious
Adults, persons who are fully grown
Assembly, a number of persons gathered together. In this story, an assembly is a gathering of all the pupils and teachers of a school.
Freckles, small, light-brown spots on the skin
Anesthetic, a substance given to a person to keep him from feeling pain. The anesthetic may also make him go to sleep.
Stubborn, unyielding; refusing to change
Permanent, lasting or continuing change
Mysterious, difficult or impossible to understand of explain
Encounter, meet face to face
Universal, present everywhere or in all people
Lawyer, one who has made a special study of laws and gives opinions on matters of la. A lawyer also speaks in court for his client (the person who hires him)
Occasional, met once in a while, but not often
Reputable, respectable; well thought of
Commercially minded, desiring to make money
Sonnet, a special kind of poem with 14 lines, dealing with a single subject
Immortal, living forever