I can remember the first time I realized that another human being didn’t like me. As you might expect, it stretches back to primary school.
It was 1987, and I’d just moved to a new school. It was a state school, and I’d previously been in a Catholic school. To start with, I was unprepared for the antipathy which would come with that – being a boy from a Catholic school gave some kids a rich vein of material to attack me, without even knowing what my own core beliefs were.
Childish exchanges like, “Don’t you believe God is everywhere?” asked one kid, the son of our teacher. He punched the air. “Ha, well I just punched God!”
Then there was Fraser, a nasty bully of a kid who was really sporty and thought he was cock of the walk. He was one of the best athletes in the class, and did extremely well in the humiliating throwing exercise that I’ve talked about previously.
He once asked me what sport I liked. I didn’t particularly like any, but feeling the pressure to answer and hoping that the right answer – or any answer – might help make me part of the group, I answered “golf”. I answered “golf” because my dad used to take me to mini-golf, sometimes with my granddad Snow, and we’d have a great time. I even thought I wasn’t half bad at it.
Unfortunately for me, “golf” was not the right answer. Fraser and his friends proceeded to mock me, and it was behaviour that continued throughout that year, including at the dreaded school camp where I didn’t have the comfort of home to escape to at the end of the day.
There’s a great photo meme doing the rounds online at the moment that says, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression, check first that you’re not in fact just surrounded by arseholes”.
Problem is, at that young age, particularly if you’re a naïve, vulnerable and sensitive sort, you’re not capable of understanding what an arsehole is. I came from a loving, caring family. When someone begins to tease, bully or mock you, how does your brain process it?
Firstly comes the shocking realization that someone doesn’t actually like you. And the first time that happens, it’s horrifying. Then comes the next stage of thinking: why? We’ve yet to develop an observing mind that can rationally process the actions of others when we’re little, so the answer to the question naturally turns inwards. There must be something wrong with me. But what is it?
That latter question will often never be answered in relation to why someone doesn’t like you. I’ve spent many years subsequently in the pursuit of trying to understand why some people don’t like you, and why they would cause you harm. What is wrong with me that I need to change, so that you will change the way you think about me, and therefore the way I think about myself?
It is futile.
I have several friends who, like me, will concentrate with laser precision on the few people in their lives who think negatively of them or their work, while ignoring the majority of people in their lives who love and respect them.
I have other friends who hate being “on the wrong side” of people, and will go to extraordirnary lengths to make sure that they’re well thought of, even if it means telling the other person what they want to hear rather than the truth.
It’s an understandable method of self-preservation, and a big red flag that our self-image is in a poor state.
Next time this happens to you, think of the Occupy Wall Street movement. You know, we are the 99%? Grab that steering wheel and shift course toward the 99% of the people in your life who value your presence and time, and don’t worry about the 1%.
Not everyone in the world is going to like you, and that’s perfectly ok. Are you?