Tim Keller

The Problem of Being Likable

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My friend Wade Bearden tweeted earlier today a quote from the Sherlock Holmes' story, A Study in Scarlet, commenting that these lines are “a great description of social median.”

 

“What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence…The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done.”

 

ABSOLUTELY! And it doesn’t seem to matter who you are but more who you can convince others you are.

In a commencement speech from 2011, Jonathan Franzen spoke the graduating class of Kenyon College about the problem of being likable:

 

“If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. Those people exist to make you feel good about yourself, but how good can your feeling be when it’s provided by people you don’t respect?”

 

It reminds me of the Groucho Marx quote: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

We think we want people to only know the filtered, curated, likable version of ourselves that we present to the world, but it can never satisfy. Compliments become meaningless. They say “you’re such a kind person” and all you can think is “yeah, that’s because you don’t actually know me.”

The only relationships that will truly defeat our culture’s loneliness epidemic, are ones where we can be fully known and still fully loved.

Like Tim Keller says in The Meaning of Marriage:

 

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.