Paid to Like You

In my junior year of high school, one of the other students in my trigonometry class received a bad grade on a test, and in a fit of immature frustration accused the teacher of not liking him. Years of schooling had taught me to expect a certain kind of response from the teacher, something like “Of course I like you, but I have to give you the grade you deserve, and we can work on improving, and blah blah.”

Instead, the teacher (pleasantly) surprised me with a more direct response: “I do not get paid to like you.”

That was it. No defense of pedogeological methods. A simple and truthful statement.

I often solve a particular kind of problem in a particularly inefficient way. The type of problem that I’m bad at is the type where getting someone else to change (even slightly) their behavior, actions or opinions is the most efficient solution. I tend not to take that solution – instead, I look for whatever solution only requires me to do anything.

Here’s an extreme but illustrative example: Let’s say I’m about to walk into a building, but someone is standing in the doorway. I will generally walk an extra three hundred feet to another entrance before asking that person to move.

This isn’t about social anxiety, though it bears some superficial resemblance. Unlike (seemingly) many people of my generation, I have zero problem striking up conversations with strangers. I will walk up to that person standing in the doorway all day to just chat with them. What I don’t like doing, however, is investing anyone else with control over my outcomes, if I can at all avoid it.

Walking three hundred extra feet to an unoccupied entrance is within my control. Asking someone to move – even though the ask is easy and very likely to be met – puts some control into the hands of someone else. After all, what if they’re a weirdo or a jerk and they just say “no,” stubbornly standing in the doorway? I’m not going to just push them out of my way, so I’d end up walking to the other entrance anyway.

Now look, I know this is a flaw. I know that it’s ridiculous to behave this way most of the time. But my habit of engineering situations to be entirely under my control often has big payoffs, too.

I almost never lose bets, I almost never lose negotiations, I almost never lose arguments. Why? Because I do all three of those things extremely rarely, and only in situations where I know I’m right, hold every card, and have already engineered the outcome. And I’ve done that because I so despise having any part of my outcome dependent on someone else.

I don’t want people to do right by me because they like me. To the extent that I want people to like me, I want it to be a by-product of good and moral behavior that helps my fellow humans, not a goal in itself. I want people to do right by me because of their own good and moral behavior, and also because I engineer my life so that it’s difficult to do otherwise. If people don’t do right by me, I don’t expect them to change – I change my life in such a way that this person no longer has any opportunity to harm me.

Some, even many people spend their entire lives giving away control and autonomy to others in the hope of being liked. Being a well-liked but mediocre sycophant, entirely dependent on others’ emotional opinion of me for every part of my existence, seems like a very particular kind of hell to me. I – like everyone – will always be dependent on a society of other people for my existence. That isn’t bad, in itself; or at least the benefits far outweigh the costs. But I don’t want to be subject to whim, as far as I can avoid it. If you like me, I am glad of it. But if you don’t, my only concern is that you don’t come into a position in my life where it matters.

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