Names will never hurt me, but may help clear the air

By Eva Bradley

Why do we like to be liked? And should we learn to like to be disliked?

This week, I was told straight-up by an awfully friendly and eminently likeable chap that, frankly, he didn't like my column.

Conditioned to a fairly constant stream of praise about my rambling thoughts on life through the years, I was quite unsure how to respond. My instinct was to take offence, or at the very least suggest that perhaps then he ought to stop reading it.

But then another thought put its hand up in my brain, and I stopped for a moment while it argued its case: without a doubt there are hundreds, possibly thousands of readers out there who held exactly the same opinion. The only difference was that they kept that opinion to themselves.

The social construct that sees us happily heap on praise but follow the axiom that "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" may be good for our collective self-esteem but can lead to an undeservedly positive view of who we really are.

Some might argue that is a good thing, but what good is it to know our strengths if we don't also contemplate our weaknesses and how to overcome them?

A bouquet is only as good as the brickbat it can be compared to.

And so I told this likeable chap who didn't like my column that I really appreciated his honesty and it was a refreshing change to hear that there are those out there who think my writing is neither interesting nor funny.

We had a brief chat about his issues with what I write and I gained a useful insight into the sort of things that irritate and annoy. We parted as friends and I heard from him later that our meeting had prompted him to re-read a couple of recent ramblings and in fact I wasn't so bad after all. High praise indeed.

From the moment we are first told that our dreadful scribble of the sun, the sky and a stick-figure family is a fabulous work of art and deserves pride of place stuck to the fridge door, we become conditioned to positive reinforcement and eventually addicted to it like a drug.

We seek praise from our friends and family, we ask if our bum looks big in this when we really want to hear how small it is, and we are devastated when criticism (in other circles known as "the truth") comes at us from teachers, (brave) friends or the boss.

Some of my very best columns have come as a result of the very worst criticism from those unique individuals who delight in spending their spare time writing letters of complaint to the editor.

And some of my greatest lessons in life have come from mistakes that have forced me to be highly critical of myself.

Among my friends, I used to always be known as the honest one that would call a spade a spade or (more helpfully, I thought) a fat bum a fat bum.

Over the years, I have learned that not many people like hearing the truth, and if you intend to tell it you have to wrap it in so many layers of praise that it's hardly worth the trouble.

And so, here it is - an open invitation to have a free swipe, on me. No holds barred, sock it to me and if you think I suck, say so. Then we can all move on and be friends.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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