Remember the Seinfeld episode where George Castanza is obsessed with everyone liking him, especially Jerry’s girlfriend. He tried so hard to be funny, to be helpful, and to be nice in an effort to please. He was deeply troubled when he found out that Jerry’s girlfriend didn’t like him. So then in an effort to win her over, he over compensated, and doubled his efforts. In one scene he lamented. “Why doesn’t she like me?” And Jerry’s response was something along the lines of, not everyone has to like you George. But George insisted that everyone must like him. He then ruminated over every word and every action. He stopped enjoying the present. He stopped listening to his own girlfriend and in the end, he loses her admiration too.
I believe most of us can relate to George. I like to be under the illusion that everyone likes me. And for the most part I think people do, people who really know me. But I can remember about every time when I discovered that someone didn’t. It still stings when I think about the time at girls camp at Camp Mia Shalom where I was outside of a cabin and overheard my most trusted friends talking about me negatively. When one of them came outside and saw me there, she bee-lined back in and the gossip stopped. I acted nonchalant as if I didn’t care or had even heard. But I never felt as safe with my friends after that.
Working towards authenticity can be a painful process. Learning to live my religion the best way I know how, not the way others would have me live it is hard. Especially when we are like George and truly want to be liked—not just by those who already do—but by everyone. But often if we worry so much about what others think we end up squelching who we are. We silence our voice and we snuff out our own light and if we carry it far enough, we might end up not pleasing anyone, especially ourselves. How often do we stick our necks out and share something that has become a truth for us. And then when we do and someone criticizes it, we are like the turtle who pulls back into his shell, afraid to show our true selves again.
It’s quite possible that the only voice we listen to is the one who shoots us down, instead of those who respect our vulnerability. It is possible to respect someone while disagreeing with someone. Honoring others experiences and truths and realizing that everyone sees through the lens of their lives differently is essential to friendship and understanding differences.
I am often that thirteen-year-old girl sitting outside of the cabin. I still really want to fit in, and like George be liked by everyone, and am still hurt when I find out that friends are talking about me in less than flattering terms. Years ago I sat in a bishop’s office and shared some painful baggage I’d been carrying. The baggage was one of doubt—doubt about the church I’d been raised in. Like a good shepherd, he respected where I was at, and observed that I might care too much what people think about me. Before this bishop was released he would occasionally remind me that I was okay. And to not worry and do what I needed to do. I’ve come to find out years later, that he was right.
I used to hear the adage carries their heart on their sleeve. I didn’t know until my 50’s that it describes me. When we have a wound, it’s often a good idea to pull off the bandage occasionally and let it air out. But in self-protecting we want to cover our blemishes, hide our wounds, and hide our flaws. Once I shared my burden of doubt with a leader who hadn’t yet earned my trust, and who didn’t know me. But I shared anyway hoping to be understood and when I was not respected, I ended up feeling betrayed and hurt. It took me a long time to stick my neck out again. But eventually when I spoke up, I found new friends because of it. I found others sharing their vulnerable truths with me. And my old friends who already knew the real me continued to be there for me. As much as I love the guy, someday I will learn to let go of George Castanza.