You like me, you really like me!

As her prestige mounted its maintenance became more trying. She became more sensitive to criticism and would go to any lengths to avoid it.  The women adored her. The men were awestruck before her. She was becoming something of a phenomenon. But she alone knew her internal struggles. She knew she was not better than anyone  else. She thought her virtues were the products of chance. As the days went by she began to loathe her so called good manners. She became less delighted when people praised her. It was as if they were confining her to an ever narrowing prison.

The moment I read the above passage in Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine, I knew I would never forget it.  The protagonist Ihuoma is a beautiful widow who is well liked in her community for her affable nature. She doesn’t mind at first, but at time goes on she finds herself trapped by her good manners as people expect her to be good all the damn time.

I have often felt that being well liked, especially because of one’s good behaviour, is a burden, a prison of sorts. People mostly like others on a conditional basis- We like you because you are nice/pretty/funny/a good singer/a good actress/great athlete etc. So while it is nice to be well liked, it is often predicated on something that could so easily be taken away. To be liked because you are a nice person is to be forever condemned to be nice, and you are done for the moment you do one not so nice thing. Being liked for being bad and wild may be better, but even that brings its own pressures as you have to constantly reinvent your wild image lest people go off you. The truth is that even as people are uplifting you, they are also slyly watching for flaws, waiting for a misstep so they can drag you down.

The worst thing is to be put on a pedestal and used as a means of judging other people: “why be a Kim Kardashian when you can be a blah?” You may enjoy the compliments, but the second you put the wrong foot forward, the claws come out and you are thrown off the pedestal. So you have to live your life always considering how your actions will be perceived by the masses, driving yourself mad to ensure you do not run afoul of your well-wishers, crying yourself to sleep whenever your supporters say “oh she would never do this classless thing” because that is the exact thing you really want to do.

On this subject, one thing I find interesting is the concept of moral absolutism in relation to humans. A person is either bad or good; bad people only do bad things and good people only do good things. People are often surprised to hear that evil people had moments of kindness- I once saw a tweet from a person who was conflicted about Hitler because s/he had just found out Hitler was an animal lover. I have also seen people decide MLK jr couldn’t have been that good a person because he was an adulterer.

So when a person who is liked because we have deemed them to be good does something wrong, it is not uncommon for people to think “oh it seems this person had been bad all along and was just pretending to be good. Finally s/he has been exposed!” This is especially visible via social media with the rabid cancel culture. While it is fun to watch Liberals devour each other, it is strange that everyone is just one misstep away from being cancelled. Today’s rabid cancellors are tomorrows cancellees. So once you position yourself as one of the good guys, you must always be good or risk being revealed as a fraud. Never mind that even the saints have flaws. It is also interesting that we never apply this to ourselves, only to others. We judge others by their actions but judge ourselves by our intentions, so we can say “well I did not mean to do bad/I meant well therefore I am not a bad person”, but rarely afford this privilege to others who are instead declared bad and promptly written off.

Therefore I sometimes think it must be so liberating to be hated or at least not extremely popular. People already hate you so might as well be yourself and not worry about what people think. Of course this is easier said than done as it is normal to want to be liked. For most people, the feeling of being hated is understandably vile and uncomfortable.  But it is important to not be carried away by the opinions of others- surely if your family and friends like you then it shouldn’t matter as much . If no one likes you then check yourself mate.

I will end this with two quotes to live by. I don’t remember where I heard the quotes but I always have them in my head:

I would rather be despised for who I am than liked for someone I am pretending to be.  (According to google, the original quote by Kurt Cobain is “I would rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not).

What other people think of me is none of my business.



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