Why I Need to Be Liked
Categories: Heathers Blog
I was catching up on some old qanda episodes last night and was interested to watch the audience with Bill Gates from 28 May. I think there’s something in me that loves the idea that the computer geek who got turned down for the school dance became the (on and off) wealthiest man in the world.
One audience member asked Bill about how he found his solid self-identity and self-confidence at such a young age. He said:
“From a young age ideally you’ll have adults in your life, preferably your parents as part of that, some of your teachers, people around you who like you and they’re behind you and they’ll back you no matter what goes on, and that gives you enough confidence to go off on a quest … I think that’s pretty basic and it gives you a platform on which to try out new things, to fail … self-confidence is primary and then finding your passion is an adventure, a quest ….”
Self-confidence is primary and as someone who struggles with it, I do see building up the confidence of others as a very key part of my role in the life of the church. In fact, I have long held a suspicion that Church decline in Australia has been largely the result of the lost confidence of society in the Church, and in turn, the lost confidence that Christians have in themselves. I think rightly and justifiably, for almost a century we have not been part of a society that gives the Church the message, ‘we like you, we will back you no matter what, even when you fail ..’. Because of this history, for many years now my heart has gone out to the faithful pew-warmers, who have little confidence to share their faith with others. There is a shame that hovers over so many of us.
My own experience of being ‘liked’ has been a mixed bag, but I would say that from a young age I met a variety of people who added to my self-confidence. The Bible calls this ‘blessing’. When we bless someone we affirm their value as human beings. We say, “You are beautiful. You are talented. You can do it.” Cursing words on the other hand, are the kind that detract from this self-worth: “You’ll never amount to anything. You’ll never change. You’re hopeless, just like your father.” The basic Christian paradigm is that life with God is a blessed life, but life without God is a cursed life, death being the ultimate curse of a life lived separate from God, something which even Bill Gates himself admits is an inescapable part of this life.
Bill’s theory on self-confidence matches the Bible and I think also has substantial support from the science of psychology. I recall once learning about ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’, which argues that in order to fulfil self-actualisation, human beings need to experience basic trust. After their basic needs for survival are met, they need to feel safe and experience safety. This is essential to developing the capacity to form human relationships and self-esteem. We need people in our life who like us and who will back us no matter what. I think the greatest tragedy I experienced working with special needs students in high school, was to meet the odd student who didn’t have a family member, a teacher or even a friend in this world who gave them the message, ‘I like you’.
I suspect that the people who are most prepared to be unpopular in this world, to pioneer new initiatives and to risk failure, are people who know, deep down, that they are likeable and they are liked, by someone. It’s not even enough to be loved and cared for. We need to know that we are likeable. We need someone to laugh at our jokes, or enjoy conversation with us, affirm our abilities. I suspect it wasn’t only his passion for equality and political change that enabled Nelson Mandela to endure twenty seven years in prison, but a deeply held conviction that he was likeable and valuable, despite what his society said about him. He is remembered as a man who gave people a sense of their worth, with a deep warmth for humanity.
I was speaking at a very good friend’s wedding just this weekend, someone who likes me enough to ask me to take her wedding – how awesome! I was reflecting on a passage from Colossians 3, in which Paul writes, “And so as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” (Colossians 3.12). I love that God calls us “beloved”. It’s a word that carries more meaning than being loved, forgiven, cared for and redeemed. It means that God likes us. He wants to hang out with us and do life with us, the way a wedding couple desire to be together forever.
I know that there are key family members, teachers and friends in my life who have built me up and encouraged me, but I am certain that the most profound, earth-shattering, life-changing, self-altering experience of encouragement for me, was the first time I experienced the loving embrace of Jesus, feeling his smile over me, hearing him laugh at my jokes and most of all, choosing me to represent him in the world, with my own passion, personality and skills, cheering me on, and tending to me when I fail. Can there by any greater bedrock for self-confidence in this life, than a God who likes us, no matter what? A God who calls us “friend”? A God who call us “worthy”?