Reality Check: Experiments in Liking

Do you remember when liking referred to having an affectionate feeling toward someone? Now, for many, “liking” means clicking a mouse on a little thumbs-up sign.

Either way, liking indicates a positive emotional response. It’s a sign of approval, support, or agreement. Liking feels good.

There are lots of people, places, things, and beliefs that surround us that we don’t really notice. They’re neutral to us, at least until something about them grabs our attention.

For example, I don’t notice the tree outside my window until an unusual bird perches on it. Then I notice, and it’s a positive notice—a liking. Or, I don’t notice the road I’m driving on until I swerve to avoid a pothole. Then I do notice it, but it’s not a liking.

How much control do you think we have over whether or not we like something?

Dr. Rick Hanson proposed an intriguing exercise in a recent article. He suggests that we try to find some element that we like in what we would usually consider unlikable.

For example, perhaps you dislike weeds. Yet if you look at them carefully, you might see that they can be as beautiful as cultivated plants. There is something in a weed to like—if we look for the likeable.

How about looking for the likable in a person? Think of someone with whom you have a neutral relationship; someone you neither strongly like nor dislike. Deliberately look for qualities in that person to like. Maybe it’s their sense of humour, or their kindness, or their sense of responsibility. Does that change your perception of them?

The next part of the experiment might be more difficult, but it may also be quite interesting. Think of someone you dislike. Make an effort to find a likable quality in them. It doesn’t have to be a big profound quality, just look for some small thing in that person that you can genuinely like. Maybe he has a sincere love for his children, or maybe she has an admirable work ethic.

Why would we try an experiment in looking for likable qualities? For one thing, perhaps it can help us increase our empathy toward others.

It’s easy enough to empathize with people we like or can identify with. It’s not so easy to empathize with people we don’t like. And if we vehemently disagree, we may default to seeing a person as an object to be disparaged and ridiculed. But even if we disagree on big issues, it doesn’t follow that the other has no positive qualities whatsoever.

I know that anger and resentment abound. People, whether they are family, friends, or workplaces or governments, often do and say things we don’t agree with. It’s easy to demonize. It may be difficult, but perhaps helpful, to put some effort into trying to find something to like, instead of concentrating only on dislikes. After all, does our choice to dislike hurt them? Or does it hurt us?

Another potential benefit of experimenting with finding qualities to like is that it can help us be more aware of our own personal power—the power to choose to like or not like. If we live as if others “make” us like them or dislike them, we essential give up power.

By the way, looking for something you like in someone you don’t like doesn’t mean that you are betraying your principles or letting “your side” down. This is a way of building your own personal power and freedom by experimenting, by making a practice of choosing consciously.

Personally, however, I’m still having trouble finding something to like in the potholes.

What do you think of this experiment?  Can you find something to like in someone you don’t?

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