To like liking

The trunk of the Christmas tree we picked up yesterday bends twice on its way from the base to the top, as though every time someone walks into the room it freezes in the middle of a little belly dance.

I really like having a tree, as much before it’s decorated as after.  I also wish that it were possible to have one each year without having to take a tree out of circulation, though I know there are varied arguments to be made with regard to carbon footprint, indoor air quality, etc.

Later in the evening after we added the dancing tree to our family, I heard a quirky prime time TV character say “I like liking things.” At first his words sounded silly, as are his wont.  But upon further reflection, it occurred to me that they might also be taken as refreshing commentary.  I thought of the tree.  I like the tree, and I like liking the tree.  But do I like liking things?  And maybe more to the point, do I live as though I like liking things?

I thought of the content of the conversation I engage in and overhear in the course of a day.  I haven’t measured yet, but I’d be willing to bet a much higher percentage is about things I and others dont like than things we do.  And it’s easy to assign that bias to the times.  There’s so much to not like when the economy’s lousy and the environment’s in trouble and the schools are a mess and kids aren’t being how we think they should be.  I spend a good deal of time every day expressing my dislike for things.  It’s because I think they could be better.  I think – I hope ­– that’s what’s behind much of our not liking.

But I also wonder if it’s become a cultural habit that keeps us in a not-liking mode such that we’re forgetting to like liking things.  We’re so busy, and so frustrated, dismayed, worried. And we get so much encouragement to be against things that it becomes a lifestyle.  It becomes how we choose whom to talk to and hang out with (i.e. the people who don’t like the same things we don’t).

You know who’s really good at liking liking things?  Toddlers.  A friend told me a while ago that her four year-old son told her one night that he loves everything (except for things that have to do with war).  There’s vitality in liking things.  And as demonstrated gracefully and succinctly by this four year-old neighbor, it doesn’t have to replace criticism. (The blogger sighs with relief.)  It’s possible to be oriented toward liking things – seeking them out and celebrating them – and still to call attention to what doesn’t seem to be working or serving.  In fact, come to think of it, the two may be mutually supportive.  If you live a life of liking things, it will probably bother you even more when something doesn’t feel right.  You’re more likely to notice, but also to take action. To make more room for liking things.  If you live a life of not liking liking things, then it’s just business as usual when things are lousy.  It makes things comfortable and provides connective tissue for choosing sides and staying outraged.  I’m reminded of the bumper sticker that reads “If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.”  Maybe so.  But also, if you’re outraged you might want to check whether it’s because being outraged is comfortable, and so why do anything to change it?  One doesn’t have to be outraged to take action, and outrage may not be the most effective state from which to do so.

We start early getting kids to turn their attention from liking liking things to the things we think they should be applying themselves to.  And of course we learned that bias by having our attention bent the same way.  If we’re interested in an altered future, one in which it’s cooler to like liking things than not to like liking them, we might make it our mission and challenge to support the heck out of kids’ natural like-liking – making ample room for them to delve deeply into delight, to be driven by curiosity, to pull challenge toward them.  It doesn’t have to be at the expense of learning social lessons of hard work, compromise, reading.  They’ll have less cause to resist, and more to see what there may be to like liking about those things too.

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3 Responses

  1. I love this post, your dancing tree and the idea of the whole thing. I have actually been paying attention lately to when I am being a “not-liker” or a “judger”, and it is interesting to notice that most of the time, as soon as I become aware, I realized I’d rather not be in that mode. As you said, though, I have also found that most often the not-liking is about things that I think could be better. But that in itself brings me to a place that I find myself wanting to move away from. I’m looking for ways to just be ok with whatever is…whether I like it or not. (and not in a victim way…)
    Thanks for writing.

  2. Lily, I love how you say this: “I have also found that most often the not-liking is about things that I think could be better. But that in itself brings me to a place that I find myself wanting to move away from.”

    Me too.

    I think I’m learning that change comes from that place of acceptance you are talking about more than it comes from that place of judging and dissatisfaction (where I have spent way too much time).

    It seems hopeful to imagine what might come of raising kids with the priority of letting them stay close to their liking to like.

    One small example: my son who is just learning to read and write, he was so excited today to write captions for a book he had drawn. I wrote the captions as he dictated them on a separate sheet of paper and he copied them into his book. He writes sometimes bottom to top, the letters as well as the words. He sometimes holds the pen so far out he has little control. He repeats letters because he loses track. But he was THRILLED to be writing.

    It was work for me to hold my tongue — “if you hold the pen here it will be easier” and “if you start the stroke at the top it will go smoother.” But he couldn’t have been happier in that moment, with himself, with the process of writing, with the product he was making. It would only have been my anxiety about his needing to learn to do it “right” that would have interrupted his experience of liking to like. In that moment, there’s a choice one can make between prioritizing the like liking or prioritizing the getting it “right.” My whole life I have prioritized getting it right, which does require a kind of constant judging. I am trying trying with my son to do what you say and just be okay.

  3. Nice post, Meredith. I’d like to think that focusing on the stuff that exists that makes you happy doesn’t compromise one’s ability to be disciplined and critical when necessary, and agree that, if anything, it makes you more able to actually DO something besides complain when need be. I certainly am able to tackle problems and buckle down more when I’m in a good place than when I’m focused on how messed up everything is. After all, dealing with bad things requires optimism that it’s worth the effort.

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