Watching the most recent Oscars ceremony was a healthy reminder of the most fundamental instinct in human nature – the desire to please.
You want everyone to like you.
Admitting that is a big step towards authenticity. Because it’s true.
It is also true that everyone will not like you. Not even such masters of public relations as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama can make everyone like them. Some people have their own issues – they might dislike you simply for being liked by so many other people.
Why do you want to be liked so much? It relates back to the evolutionary necessity to please your parents. A young animal must please his parents in order to survive. Often, in the wild, where food and care can be in short supply, only the young animal who pleases survives to adulthood.
You crave delighting others because it regresses you into a happy child, secure in having pleased his parents and thus surviving and flourishing.
Even as an adult, you have a place in the back of your mind where everything you do is still directed at pleasing your parents. That promotion at work, the book you published, the shiny diploma on your wall – there’s some part of you that’s hoping mom and dad will notice, just like those folks up on the stage at the Oscars, thanking their mom and dad. And you’re watching those people because you enjoy identifying with them – pretending to be them for a few moments of rapturous pleasure in receiving approval.
Some part of you also wants to experience that cliched but endlessly replayed scene from every “feel-good” movie ever made. It’s the scene where, after a lifetime of commitment and hard work, the unsung hero is finally recognized by…everyone. Think “Mr. Holland’s Opus” or any of thousands of other cheesy Hollywood films. Finally, after quietly doing your part to improve the world, you get your standing ovation. The entire auditorium (or the stadium, if it’s a sports flick) is on its feet, cheering, applauding, weeping with joy – for you.
I’d like to begin by thanking the Academy.
The problem with this instinct to please others and seek their approval is that it displaces your source of assurance about your own value onto other people. They become the arbiters of your value as a person.
It’s lovely to receive accolades – the little kid within you dances for joy.
But the judgment of others cannot become a referendum on your value as a human being. An adult needs to look within himself for approval. And you can only achieve that approval by becoming your best self.
That means staying conscious of who you are at all times, and checking in to be certain it is your most authentic identity, the person you want to be – the person you can look back on afterward and be proud of.
Your respect for yourself must be earned.
The respect of others is nice, but it can be fickle. Back in 1985 , when Sally Field won the Oscar for Best Actress for “Places in the Heart,” after having won in 1980 for “Norma Rae,” she didn’t actually say “You like me, you really like me” – although that’s what she’s remembered as saying, and that’s what she still gets made fun of for saying.
Here’s what she actually said in 1985: “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”
Perhaps it was her putting it so bluntly – telling the audience that they liked her – that made them flinch, and change their minds, and switch to making fun of her.
Sally Field probably realized once and for all in 1985 what will always be true – that you must look within yourself for the approval that matters. No one else – not even your parents – can satisfy your craving to be accepted as the person you truly are.