Do Others Have A Right To Dislike You?
April 22, 2013
Eileen collapsed at home from a massive heart attack. She was lucky that her neighbor heard the thud and cared enough to summon the superintendent. Eileen is a fearless woman, she has had to be since her husband died some twenty years ago. When you are eighty-six, living alone is not for sissies.
She glowed while recalling the kindness of the nurses during her two months of hospital stay. All except for HER, that evil one with the round spectacles and cold, mean face.
I wondered which nurse she meant: most of them are very compassionate. Then in walked Nurse Ratched. She was after blood and she yanked Eileen’s fragile arm. Poor Eileen winced as the nurse stabbed her vein as though with a dagger. She was unmoved by Eileen’s pleas of pain and kept up her patrician facade.
When the nurse left Eileen began to list all the slights and meanness this nurse had inflicted upon her. Her litany consisted of the standard behavior of an abrupt, uncaring human being. “I don’t understand what I did to make her dislike me?” said Eileen. This question had so disturbed her that she submitted a formal complaint against the nurse.
It turns out this particular nurse was notorious for her mood swings. She has a complicated domestic life and when she begins her shifts the other staff take bets on which way the wind is blowing that day. Rationally I knew that the nurse was not singling Eileen out. Her dislike for people was more general than that. But I also understood why Eileen took it so personally.
When I got home I had a long think about the times people have taken a dislike to me. Sometimes the dislike has been justified, over something I did or said. Fair enough. But other times the dislike is based on ethnicity, gender, age, or any number of factors over which I have no power to change. More often than not, it hasn’t been about me at all. The person was stressed, in a foul mood, or just had some bad news. I couldn’t help taking it personally. I too questioned what was it that I had done wrong.
Then I had a long think about the times I had done the same to others. If I can forgive myself for inflicting that on them, don’t these others also have a right to do so to me? Is it necessary that everyone, at all times, in all places, should like me?
It is highly irrational and yet, even the most socially and intellectually powerful people have difficulty accepting not being liked. I know liberal democrats who go on marches with placards about freedom of speech–except when a friend or acquaintance does not like them. Then it’s, “He shouldn’t say that about me.” They sign hundreds of petitions advocating freedom of expression, but privately : “She has no right to treat me that way.”
The other day I was walking on a side street near my home, lugging a bag of groceries. Most times I walk slowly because of my damaged heart, my strides are sometimes laboured. A man bicycled past me, stared and laughed at the heaviness of my pace: “You’re a pussy,” he exclaimed. No doubt in his world that is what I am. At first it disturbed me that he felt at liberty to insult me, a stranger who had done him no wrong. Then I quickly recognized his right to his snap judgements and erroneous opinions. He is a flawed and ignorant human being–just like me.
I now find it interesting to observe whenever that sensation arises in me of why doesn’t he/she like me? This is when the ego exposes itself in all its rawness. The ego normally hides in plain sight, lurking behind our joys and distractions. In rare moments when it shows itself I get a chance to examine it, to question it. I have long admired an art piece of Yoko Ono where she invites the audience to cut slices into her dress while she sits silently on stage. I wonder what she thinks and feels? Does she also witness her raw ego?
It takes some effort at first, but I find it very liberating to accept others’ right to dislike me. It makes going about my business that much easier and so much more pleasant. While wanting be always liked is a human trait, it is a terrible burden to carry. I don’t mean being disliked in a threatening kind of way. That is something against which I take a stand. But the casual unfriendliness of acquaintances, the gossipy dislike of friends or colleagues. I recognize that insults and dislike can escalate into violence, however most times they do not. I am now comfortable with that type of not being liked.
Those of you who take the time to ‘like’ my posts and perhaps even ‘follow’ my blog, I want you to know it means a great deal to me. If however, you think what I write is piffle, I accept your right to your opinion.